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New Maine law says private health insurers must provide hearing aid benefits

Previously, Maine required hearing aid coverage for children under the age of 18, and capped the insurer's expense at $1,400.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

There aren't a lot of states that require private health insurers to provide hearing aids to their beneficiaries, but Maine joined their ranks on New Year's Day, becoming the sixth such state to do so.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the other states that require hearing aid coverage for both children and adults are Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

A host of additional states require health benefits plans to pay for hearing aids for just children, including Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

A Portland Press Herald report said the new law -- which expands hearing aid benefits to all Mainers with private health insurance -- could benefit roughly 173,000 citizens. That's a fairly high number for a state that, according to the World Population Review, boasts fewer than 1.5 million people.

Previously, Maine required hearing aid coverage for children under the age of 18, and capped the insurer's expense at $1,400. A bill expanding benefits to all Mainers was introduced in 2014 but ultimately struck down by state lawmakers.

The current law, which is similar in some respects, mandates that private insurers and MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, cover hearing aids up to $3,000 per ear every three years.

That's a higher benefit amount than other states with similar requirements. Information compiled by ASHA shows that Arkansas, for example, requires insurance companies to offer coverage to employers -- and if the employer chooses to add that option, the plan must provide coverage of no less than $1,400 per ear every three years.

In New Hampshire, insurers are required to cover the cost of no less than $1,500 per hearing aid every five years, while the insured is allowed to choose a more expensive hearing aid and pay the difference in cost. In Rhode Island, individual and group insurance policies must cover $1,500 for each hearing aid every three years for children younger than 19, and $700 per hearing aid for those older than 19.

The Maine law will cost state government about $215,000 per year, the Press Herald reported. The measure has been met with opposition from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which has argued that it will cause premiums to rise and make plans too expensive for some small businesses.

THE LARGER TREND

A May 2019 report from The Health Journals found a link between hearing loss and dementia. While there's no evidence that hearing loss can directly cause dementia, evidence shows that having a hearing impairment can increase the risk of developing it by up to five times. The risk increases with the severity of the hearing loss.

That's especially relevant in Maine, which is statistically the oldest state in the country.

The constant effort to hear may stress the brain to the point at which less energy is dedicated to functions such as memory and understanding, the report found. And being hard of hearing often leads to social isolation, which is a risk factor for cognitive decline and depression, another common risk associated with hearing loss.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com