July 26, 2019

Senators Warren, Paul, & Rep. Rice Reintroduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Ensure Better Access to Hearing Health Care Services

Bipartisan Bill Tackles Outdated Medicare Rules Creating Barriers to Audiology Care

 Bill Text (PDF) | One-Pager (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) today announced they will introduce the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill that ensures seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have access to a full range of hearing and balance health care services provided by licensed audiologists. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) joined the bill as original co-sponsors. Representative Tom Rice (R-S.C.) today introduced identical companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“Outdated Medicare rules make it more difficult for seniors experiencing hearing loss to get the care they need,” said Senator Warren. “Our bill would clear the roadblocks that stand in the way of Medicare beneficiaries, and make audiology services more accessible.”

“Seniors who suffer from hearing conditions shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to see their preferred audiologist,” said Representative Rice. “The Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act cuts through the red tape to help Medicare patients access quality, affordable care. I will continue to reach across the aisle to find straightforward solutions to health care problems.” 

“Ohioans shouldn’t have to jump hurdles to access the quality healthcare they need,” said Senator Brown. “This legislation removes outdated barriers and makes it easier for older Americans and people with disabilities to get the audiology care they need for early diagnoses, prevention and treatment for balance conditions and hearing loss.”

Hearing loss affects approximately 20% of Americans, or 48 million people—including two-thirds of adults in their seventies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hearing loss is now the third most-commonly reported chronic health condition in the country. Despite the prevalence of hearing loss, a minority of Americans in their seventies had a hearing test in the last four years, and only about 14 percent of people with hearing loss use assistive hearing technologies.

Medicare already covers a range of hearing health services, and audiologists are trained and licensed in all 50 states and U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, to perform these services. However, Medicare currently does not recognize audiologists as providers of most hearing health-related services and will only allow reimbursement for a narrow set of tests to diagnose a hearing or balance disorder—and only if patients first obtain an order from a physician or nurse practitioner. Medicare’s rules are far more restrictive than many private and federal insurance plans.

The Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act of 2019 ensures that Americans on Medicare have access to a full range of hearing and balance health care services provided by licensed audiologists. The bill:

·         Amends the definition of “audiology services” in the Medicare statute, which specifies the services that audiologists may provide, to include all services already covered by Medicare that are also within an audiologist’s scope of practice;

·         Amends the Medicare definition of practitioner to include audiologists, which improves beneficiary access to audiologic and vestibular care, a change that is consistent with Medicare’s classification of similar health care providers such as clinical social workers and clinical psychologists;

·         Makes technical changes to the classification of audiology services in the Medicare system as “other diagnostic tests” to remove the pre-treatment order requirement, which does not exist with any other federal or commercial payer; and

·         Makes no changes to the scope of hearing health benefits covered by Medicare or the scope of practice of audiologists.

The legislation is endorsed by the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, the Hearing Loss Association of America, and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology.

Senator Warren is one of the leading voices in the Senate advocating for lower costs for patients with hearing loss. Her bipartisan legislation to make hearing aids available over the counter was signed into law in August 2017. She has partnered with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to encourage the Food and Drug Administration to improve consumer access to hearing aids, and she and Senator Paul have called on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma to remove roadblocks that prevent Medicare beneficiaries with hearing loss from accessing audiology services.