Mobility and communication are essential for healthy aging.1,2 As an audiologist, I see first-hand the difference that diagnosing and treating hearing and balance problems make in the lives of my patients. Not only are these patients healthier, but they are happier, safer, and enjoy a better quality of life with greater independence.
Hearing loss and balance disorders are significant public health concerns that contribute to increased fall risk. In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related deaths in the elderly.3 If left untreated, hearing loss can also lead to social isolation, depression, and an increased risk for cognitive decline, including dementia.4,5
Sadly, Medicare has become a barrier to care for older Americans who need the services of an audiologist. Medicare Part B is the only insurer that regulates patients into a fragmented system of care and requires them to shuffle back-and-forth among a series of legacy providers, forcing them to receive services in a piecemeal fashion. These obstacles often cause delays in treatment and contribute to the progression of hearing and balance conditions, resulting in poor health outcomes.
Fortunately, there is bi-partisan legislation, the Audiology Patient Choice Act (H.R. 2276/S.2575), working its way through Congress to help simplify Medicare. This act is thanks in part to two Kansas legislators, Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS-2) and Representative Kevin Yoder (R-KS-3), who are co-sponsoring the bill.6 If enacted, the Audiology Patient Choice Act will make necessary improvements to Medicare Part B so that patients will have streamlined access to audiology services throughout Kansas and around the country. In addition to the House bill, this landmark legislation was also recently introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). I encourage the rest of the Kansas Congressional delegation to also support and take action to enact this important legislation.
The Audiology Patient Choice Act will allow Medicare beneficiaries who suspect they have a hearing or balance problem to schedule an appointment directly with an audiologist, just like those with private insurance or those who participate in other federal programs, like the Veterans Administration (VA). Direct scheduling will allow patients to get a diagnosis and treatment sooner. It will foster better coordination and quality of care, and it will increase efficiency. This legislation will also help relieve pressure on primary care, which is already overburdened with the 10,000 Americans becoming Medicare-eligible each day.7 In addition, the bill will allow patients to choose from among all licensed providers, including audiologists, the medically necessary rehabilitative services that they need, and that are covered by Medicare.
I am an audiologist. Audiologists are licensed and qualified doctoral-level medical professionals who are specifically trained to diagnose and treat hearing loss, tinnitus and balance problems—and yet Medicare’s archaic structure presents hurdles for patients who need our care.
It is time that we treat audiologic conditions as the public health concern that they are. It is time that we treat older adults with the dignity that they deserve by allowing them the same access to these services as the rest of America. And, it is time that we treat all qualified health care providers the same under Medicare so that it can operate in the most efficient manner.
Join us in making access to hearing and balance care easier for Medicare recipients. Contact your legislators today. Websites such as www.18x18.org/congressional-connect make it easy for constituents to voice their support. Or, you can call Senator Roberts’ office at (202) 224-4774 and Senator Moran’s office at (202) 224-6521. Ask them to support the Audiology Patient Choice Act (H.R. 2276/S.2575).
Respectfully submitted by Timothy Steele, Ph.D.
Dr. Steele is a practicing audiologist and owner of six private practice audiology clinics in Kansas and Missouri, which serve a full spectrum of audiologic and vestibular conditions for patients of all ages. He is a clinical assistant professor and has an ad hoc graduate faculty appointment at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where he has taught audiology coursework and provides clinical supervision. Dr. Steele also provides clinical instruction and supervision for audiology programs in the region.
- Musich, Shirley, Wang, Shaohung , Ruiz, Joann et al. The impact of mobility limitations on health outcomes among older adults. Geriatric Nursing, Volume 39, Issue 2. 2018, Pages 162-169, ISSN 0197-4572. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2017.08.002.
- Yorkston KM, Bourgeois MS, Baylor CR. Communication and Aging. Physical medicine and rehabilitation clinics of North America. 2010;21(2):309-319. doi:10.1016/j.pmr.2009.12.011.
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Falls are leading cause of injury and death in older Americans. Accessed on April 12, 2018 at the following link: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0922-older-adult-falls.html
- American Academy of Audiology website. Untreated hearing loss linked to depression and social isolation. Accessed on April 15, 2018 at the following link: https://www.audiology.org/publications-resources/document-library/untreated-hearing-loss-linked-depression-social-isolation
- Lin FR, Yaffe K, Xia J, et al. Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline Among Older Adults. JAMA internal medicine. 2013;173(4):10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1868. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1868.
- Congress.gov. Audiology Patient Choice Act Cosponsor List. Accessed on April 24, 2018 at the following link: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2276/cosponsors
- Pew Research Center Statistics. Accessed on April 24, 2018 at the following link:http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2010/12/29/baby-boomers-retire/