Forty eight million Americans live with hearing loss, but only one in six adults who need hearing aid devices have them. That disparity is largely driven by the high cost of hearing devices and a lack of coverage by insurance plans.

Rep. James Handy

In Maine, this problem is particularly pronounced. Data show that Maine has the third largest state percentage of hearing loss in the U.S., with 65,000 Mainers suffering from some degree of hearing loss. Those 65,000 people deserve access to hearing devices at a reasonable price. That’s why, last session, I sponsored LD 38, “An Act to Require Insurance Coverage for Hearing Aids for Adults.” That bill was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills and took effect on Jan. 1.

Prior to this law, insurance companies were not required to cover hearing aids, forcing many Mainers with hearing loss to cover the cost out of pocket or to simply miss out on fully participating in the conversations around them. Under the new law, eligible patients will have at least $3,000 per hearing aid covered by their insurance plans. For people on state employee health plans, money in the FY2020-21 budget has been allocated to cover those costs.

Hearing aids are not a luxury item, they are a health necessity for many. Hearing loss is linked to increased walking problems, falls, social isolation and dementia. Difficulty hearing also frequently causes frustration and depression that leads people to withdraw from their family, friends and communities. Put plainly, loss of hearing is a disability that should be included in our insurance like any other health issue.

Hearing loss also impedes people’s ability to work. Making hearing aids more accessible will help get those individuals back into jobs that support themselves and their families. At the same time, engaging the hearing loss community will help develop Maine’s workforce.

Starting in January, take a look at your insurance plan and get the hearing devices you need. The new law applies to all policies, contracts and certificates executed, delivered, issued for delivery, continued or renewed in this state on or after Jan. 1.

Hearing loss can have a profoundly negative impact on so many aspects of a person’s life, and I am proud we’re working to help all Mainers access the hearing devices they deserve. Improving access to hearing aids will improve the social, family and work life of thousands of Mainers, and will move Maine forward.

Rep. James Handy represents Maine Legislative District 58 (part of Lewiston). He lives in Lewiston.

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