March 20, 2018

Warren, Paul Introduce Legislation to Ensure Better Access to Hearing Health Care Services

Bipartisan Bill Tackles Outdated Medicare Rules Creating Barriers to Care

Bill Text | One-Pager

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) today introduced the Audiology Patient Choice Act, 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. A recent report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine noted that hearing health care is "often expensive and underutilized by many of the people who need it." Outdated Medicare rules contribute to this problem by creating unnecessary barriers to care for seniors with hearing loss.

"This bill will make a life changing difference for the millions of Americans who experience hearing loss but can't access the care they need because of archaic regulations," said Senator Warren. "I'm glad to work with Senator Paul on this common sense step to bring down costs for our seniors."

"Our legislation gets government out of the decision-making process so Americans can seek treatment from audiologists more quickly, easily, and affordably. It proves Congress can come together across the aisle to find solutions to improve our health care system," said Senator Paul.

Approximately 48 million Americans experience age-related hearing loss, including two-thirds of adults in their seventies. Despite the prevalence of hearing loss, a minority of Americans in their seventies have 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, all 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. These rules are far more restrictive than many private and federal insurance plans.

The Audiology Patient Choice Act improves hearing health care for Medicare beneficiaries by allowing audiologists to provide all services already covered by Medicare that are also within an audiologist's scope of practice.  The bill includes provisions that would implement the National Academies' recommendation to allow audiologists to receive Medicare reimbursement for auditory rehabilitation services. The bill would also ensure that Medicare's treatment of audiologists is consistent with the classification of other health care providers such as dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, and optometrists.

The Audiology Patient Choice Act 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 Academy of Doctors of Audiology and the Hearing Loss Association of America.

A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Tom Rice (R-S.C.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) last year.