Bottom Line: Older adults with hearing loss who used hearing aids were less likely to be hospitalized or have an emergency department visit and they had lower total Medicare costs, although their out-of-pocket health care expenses were higher.
Why The Research Is Interesting: Hearing loss is estimated to affect two-thirds of adults older than 70 years and is associated with worse communication with health care professionals, which can adversely affect health outcomes. Hearing aids, while helpful, are not covered by Medicare.
Who and When: Data for 1,336 adults 65 years or older with hearing loss from 2013-2014
What (Study Measures): Use of a hearing aid (exposure); total health care, Medicare, and out-of-pocket spending; any emergency department (ED), inpatient, and office visit; and number of ED visits, nights in hospital, and office visits (outcomes)
How (Study Design): This was an observational study. Researchers were not intervening for purposes of the study and cannot control all the natural differences that could explain the study findings.
Authors: Elham Mahmoudi, Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and coauthors
Results: Use of a hearing aid (602 adults) was associated with:
- Lower likelihood of any ED visits and hospitalizations, fewer number of nights in the hospital
- Greater number of office visits
- Higher total annual health care spending and out-of-pocket spending
- Reduced total Medicare costs
Study Limitations: Study data were from a self-reported survey and researchers had no objective measure of individual hearing loss; researchers also could not control for the type and number of hearing aids people reported using or how consistently they were used
This information might be useful for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in deciding on insurance coverage of hearing aids for older adults with hearing loss.
Related material: The commentary, “Hearing Aid Use and Health Care Costs Among Older Adult,” by Margaret I. Wallhagen, Ph.D., G.N.P.-B.C., University of California, San Francisco is also available on the For The Media website.
For more details and to read the full study, please visit http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/fullarticle/10.1001/jamaoto.2018.0273
Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.