The Long-Term Cost of Untreated Hearing Loss
October 26, 2022

Hearing loss affects over 38 million adults in the United States. A significant number of these are over the age of 70, but middle-aged adults can also experience hearing loss to some degree. Research shows that people who have untreated hearing loss tend to spend more on health care than those who either have no hearing loss or have received hearing treatment.

What Is the Relationship Between Untreated Hearing Loss and Increased Health Care Expenses?

Multiple studies have shown that both elderly and middle-aged adults who have hearing loss that remains untreated have higher health care costs overall. According to one study, older adults with hearing impairments could pay $22,000 more in health care costs over a 10-year period. Another study found that middle-aged people with hearing loss spent 33% more on health care expenses during an 18-month period than those without. Middle-aged people are also less likely to seek treatment from hearing services than older adults. It is estimated that 20% of senior citizens who could benefit from hearing aids use them, but for middle-aged adults, that figure is closer to 13%.

Conditions Highly Correlated With Untreated Hearing Loss

The studies tracked all health care expenses, including those not directly related to hearing loss. The study of older adults took place over a 10-year period, and during that time, the data showed that people with untreated hearing loss were more likely to develop certain conditions: 30% more likely to have a serious fall 40% more likely to experience depression 50% more likely to experience dementia People with hearing difficulties were more likely to visit the emergency room and to require hospitalization. There was also a greater risk of readmission to the hospital within 30 days.

Connection Between Untreated Hearing Loss and Adverse Health Outcomes

These studies showed that there was a correlation between greater health care costs and increased health risks and hearing loss. In other words, when hearing loss was present, the risks and increased costs were more likely to be present as well. These studies did not examine any cause-and-effect relationship that may exist between untreated hearing loss and adverse health outcomes. Nevertheless, it has been proposed that people with hearing difficulties may avoid seeing a doctor for unrelated health matters because of the difficulty of communication. When patients with hearing loss do see the doctor, it may be difficult to engage in conversation to develop a treatment plan, and patients may misunderstand the instructions that they receive from the doctor.

Costs of Hearing Loss Not Directly Related to Health Care

In analyzing the global costs of unaddressed hearing loss, the World Health Organization assessed several types of costs. One was the intangible costs, which could include grief from the loss and social stigma associated with not being able to hear. Such intangible losses could contribute to depression and other mental illnesses, indicating an indirect link to health care.

What Does Untreated Hearing Loss Cost Society as a Whole?

Despite the fact that most people who need hearing aids are older people with age-related hearing loss, Medicare does not cover hearing aids. Because Medicare is a government-subsidized program, the costs for treating the conditions that correlate with hearing loss ultimately fall on taxpayers. In 2021, Representative Debbie Dingell introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would provide Medicare coverage for hearing aids. The bill was referred to committee, and today its status remains uncertain. Even if eventually passed, the bill would not affect middle-aged people with untreated hearing loss who do not yet qualify for Medicare. The participants in the study of middle-aged people with hearing loss had private insurance coverage. The cost associated with treating conditions correlated with hearing loss can cause the premiums of everyone in the pool to go up, whether they have hearing difficulties or not. Furthermore, hearing loss can keep people out of the workforce, resulting in a loss of productivity. An economic analysis published in the Lancet concluded that every $1 that the U.S. invested in treatment for hearing loss could see a return of $15. The monetary value of the health gains would add up to $1.3 trillion. Productivity gains would be even more significant, exceeding $2 trillion.

Why Does Hearing Loss Go Untreated?

There are many reasons why people who could benefit from hearing aids do not use them. One of the most significant factors in untreated hearing loss is cost. The market price for a pair of hearing aids can exceed $6,000. By itself, the equipment costs a fraction of that price, with most hearing aids produced for less than $100. The cost comes from audiologist appointments to test hearing and fit new hearing aids. Because Medicare does not pay for hearing aids, and private insurers may not either, that cost typically comes out of the patient's pocket. For many people who need hearing aids, a significant portion of whom are living on a fixed income, the price is too high, even with the financing options that many manufacturers and distributors provide. Congress has recognized the difficulty that many people have with obtaining hearing aids. In addition to the Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act that remains in limbo, Congress also passed a law in 2017, which went into effect in 2020, that made over-the-counter hearing aids more accessible. With OTC hearing aids, it is not necessary to see an audiologist to obtain amplification devices. As a result, the overall costs of obtaining hearing aids are considerably less.

How Can Audien Help With Untreated Hearing Loss?

We offer safe, small, fully rechargeable hearing aids produced in a facility registered with the FDA. We deliver them directly from the factory to your door. Because we cut out the middlemen, e.g., audiologists and sales reps, we offer hearing aids at just a fraction of the usual cost, with some models costing less than $100 for the pair. No one should have to suffer from untreated hearing loss because the price of hearing aids is prohibitive. Find out more about our newest hearing aid, the Audien Atom Pro.

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Drew Sutton M.D.

Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.

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