Hearing Aids: Are they really a "lifestyle" device?

Seriously, hearing aids are viewed as a "lifestyle" device by insurance companies, while cochlear implants are more analogous to a pacemaker. Can you believe it? Insurance often covers cochlear implants and new processors, but they don't cover hearing aids. Or very rarely do they ever. Just because it's a lifestyle choice.

I tell you, it's NOT a lifestyle device. No, it's not analogous to, say, a tummy tuck or breast implants. I'm not doing it just for kicks to make me feel better, I'm doing it because I NEED to hear. I need to hear at work. I need to hear the phone, since my hearing aid ear is better for talking on the phone. I need it to supplement what I hear in my cochlear implant ear. Without my hearing aid, I'm screwed.

There have been times where my hearing aid acted up. When that happened some months ago, I told my supervisors, coworkers, and student employees that it was broken, and to talk to me they would have talk face to face with me, and get my attention first. I coached them through it, so they can help me through the day until I got it fixed. (turns out the microphone covers needed to be replaced.) But those days without the hearing aids were crap and incredibly frustrating, despite a supportive work environment.

Tell me if that's a lifestyle choice to be frustrated. Is it such a lifestyle choice to not be able to communicate with people?

And yet it's not covered by insurance. My hearing aid costs $2000, and it's not covered. Thank God, when my old hearing aid broke, I was able to get Vocational Rehabilitation to get a new one for me because they saw it for what it was--a device that helps me to work.

My cochlear implant was covered when I got it implanted when I was 17. My mom had to fight with the insurance company, and convince them that it was NOT a hearing aid. Insurance was balking because they don't cover hearing aids since, as they said, it was a lifestyle device. The cochlear clinic coached us through the insurance process, and taught us how to speak insurance-ese. And in insurance-ese, the cochlear implant is classified as a "durable medical equipment" which IS covered.

Finally, insurance bowed down to the collective effort of my mother and my cochlear audiologists fighting to get me my implant. When it was time to get a new processor, my mom had to wrangle with insurance again, and somehow we were able to replace the ESprit with the Nucleus Freedom (Cochlear Americas products). I was able to hear a fair bit better, thank God, with the Freedom.

That was about 5 years ago, and my Freedom case is cracking, there's a worn spot where my glasses rubbed up against it day in and day out, the disposable battery case wore out, and I'm down to only one rechargeable battery that needs to be charged nightly. It's time for a new cochlear processor.

But Cochlear Americas won't talk with insurance directly. Apparently in order to get the new Nucleus 5, I either have to pay for it outright (to the tune of about $8,000) and then hope for a insurance refund, or work through a third party who talks with both Cochlear Americas and my insurance, so I would only have to pay co-insurance. I have $100 lying around...but I don't have $8,000.

It's been a long process, getting my audiologist to write a letter to insurance vouching that I do need it, getting the third party on board, etc. I haven't heard back from the third party yet, so no Nucleus 5, yet. I'm looking forward to the upgrade, and I hope to dear God that it works out for me.

But you know what? Even though it's a hassle, at least insurance DOES pay for cochlear processors. That much you can say for coding it as a Durable Medical Equipment.

It still does make me wonder, why the hell aren't hearing aids classified the same?

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