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UnitedHealthcare rolls out virtual option to help patients remotely access hearing care

The company says the service reduces the need for in-person appointments for fittings and adjustments.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

UnitedHealthcare Hearing has introduced a new virtual care offering that's meant to expand access to custom-programmed hearing aids while reducing the need for in-person appointments for fittings and adjustments. This option is available for those enrolled in eligible UnitedHealthcare's employer-sponsored and Medicare Advantage plans.

The virtual option, Right2You, adds a virtual care component on top of the home-delivered hearing healthcare model that UnitedHealthcare has developed. UnitedHealthcare said the offering also improves affordability, with consumers potentially saving 50–80% on custom-programed hearing aids compared to traditional models – though the cost of hearing aids, as well as the method for paying for them, varies by plan. 

To participate, people first take an online hearing test to determine current hearing status, though it should be noted that it's not a replacement for a professional hearing test.

If potential hearing loss is detected, people can then obtain the results of a hearing test (also known as an audiogram) from an in-person appointment with a UnitedHealthcare Hearing audiologist or another credentialed hearing healthcare provider. People can also use the results of a previous hearing test if it's available. 

Custom-programmed hearing aids are then shipped to the person's home. Right2You enables remote customization with a smartphone or tablet paired to the hearing aids.

UnitedHealthcare plan participants can purchase the custom hearing aids with no out-of-pocket costs or a per-device co-pay starting as low as $175, depending on the plan.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

This is another example of a major company moving into virtual care, not just to meet healthcare needs during the public health emergency, but to save on costs and meet consumer demand for quality virtual care.

Last week, Transcarent announced it would create an overlay for existing, self-insured plans and was betting heavily on consumers' preference for chatbox options.

Also last week, Amazon signaled its intention to expand its Amazon Care app-based telehealth services to its employees and other companies across the U.S. – services that to date have only been available to the retail giant's Washington-based workforce.

Since the emergence of COVID-19 and efforts to limit in-person meetings, hearing aid sales have declined significantly, although some analysts expect a rebound in 2021 as vaccinations become more widely available. According to The Hearing Review, more than 48 million Americans live with hearing loss.

Hearing loss is linked to age and environmental factors. Prolonged and repetitive exposure to loud sounds is contributing to the growing prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss, now seen in people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

THE LARGER TREND

Q4 2020 financial results show UnitedHealthcare's operating results reflected comparatively lower levels of care deferrals and higher COVID-19 care costs compared to the third quarter. The results were further impacted by additional reserves or rebates and related activity, as plans with such arrangements moved into these positions as a result of the cumulative care-deferral impacts throughout 2020.

During the fourth quarter, UnitedHealthcare saw overall average care activities return to seasonal baselines compared to the just over 95% logged in the third quarter.

The pacing over the course of the quarter moved from just below baseline, as the outfit began, to modestly exceed baseline in the latter half. This measure includes increased direct COVID-19-related care, which in total comprised about 11% of all care activity during the fourth quarter, compared with about 6% in the third quarter.

ON THE RECORD

"The new virtual care option from UnitedHealthcare Hearing represents an important option in how hearing healthcare is delivered, enabling people across the country to more easily and conveniently obtain treatment for hearing loss while minimizing the need for in-person appointments," said Diane Nens, audiologist and senior clinical director, UnitedHealthcare Hearing.

"Hearing health is connected to overall well-being, so improving access to hearing health treatment and hearing aids can support our members and lower their risk of depression and dementia, as well as reduce the frequency of falls."
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com