Texas Hearing Aid and Cochlear Implant Purchase Assistance

A word map with words such as audiology, hearing, study, aid, deafness, education, medical.
Locating funding to pay for expensive hearing aids or cochlear implants is worth the time involved. photo credit: Ben Taylor55 Audiology via photopin (license)

Texas Health and Human Services has incorporated links for different programs to help Texans pay for their hearing aids or cochlear implants, which may cost thousands of dollars. There are many programs available to adults wanting hearing support, including service members and veterans, people seeking work or studying, or people who have retired or are not working.

Veterans Programs for Hearing Aid Assistance

For active service members, TRICARE coverage will assist with hearing aids as long as the hearing loss is great enough.

For retired service members, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides assistance with hearing aids. As long as you have ten percent of any service-related disability, you should qualify. You may apply in person or online for VA health care.

Assistance for Working-Age Adults

Workforce Solutions Vocational Rehabilitation Services is the provider who assists people with disabilities who are preparing to work or are working.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission’s website, to qualify for services, you must be able to work, need services to help you do that, and have a disability which is a barrier to employment. Hearing loss and deafness are including in this group.

Diagram of a person and the cochlear implant in place.
A cochlear implant is one of the most expensive pieces of equipment available for hearing loss–usually deafness or near deafness–and involves major surgery. Exploring financial assistance options can save thousands of dollars. photo credit: Rfunderburk90 Ryan-Funderburk-1 via photopin (license)

To apply for services, you may apply at a Texas Workforce Solutions – Vocational Rehabilitation Services office, call 800-628-5115 for information, or send your questions via email to customers@twc.state.tx.us. The website cautions you to include your name, phone and address including city, state and ZIP code in your email, but not your Social Security Number or birth date.

If you quality, the rehabilitation office will send you to be evaluated by an approved audiologist who will assess your needs and report to them. After that, you may qualify for hearing aids, cochlear implants, or related equipment.

Programs for Older Texans

An older woman puts in a hearing aid.
As we age, the incidence of hearing loss and deafness increases. photo credit: http://www.ilmicrofono.it Senior woman with a hearing aid via photopin (license)

Several programs exist to support providing access for older Texans to get hearing aids or cochlear implants. For people who are 60 or older, the state has 28 area agencies on aging (called AAAs). You can contact staff via email or phone at the agency nearest you by using this list of offices across the state. These programs do consider your financial and minority status, and whether you live in a rural area.

Services for Texans not Using Vocational Services for Work

In 2016, Texas transitioned services for Independent Living to the state’s Centers for Independent Living. Scroll down this page and locate the one nearest you to learn about what supports and services they can provide you with in your area. The centers assist with a variety of needs beyond adaptive equipment, such as advocacy.

Nationwide Hearing Aid Payment Assistance

The Starkey Hearing Foundation has a program, Hear Now, for Americans with low incomes. People who meet their criteria are fitted with new hearing aids. Learn more or complete an application.

While your family may make too much money to qualify for other programs, the Audient Alliance for Accessible Hearing Health Care helps individuals acquire hearing aids at lower prices. Call or download their application form.

Community Organizations

Kiwanis, Lions Clubs, and Masons may have local branches that will fund hearing aids. Their website may not list the extent of what they do, so contact your local branch to learn more.

Other Assistive Listening Devices

While you wait to get hearing aids, there are other options to provide some hearing assistance, depending on your needs. Local stores that sell Made-for-TV products have fairly powerful hearing aids for around $20.

Williams Sound offers more advanced equipment for reasonable prices that may help you hear better at home, religious services, recreational events, in restaurants, at school, and anywhere you need to hear better.

Contact Us

Contact The Capsule Group Inc for more support in locating hearing aid or cochlear implant services.

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Get Awesome Materials to Raise Hearing and Speech Awareness

Two groups have created a variety of useful materials about communication disorders that are free to use and distribute.

To raise awareness about communication disorders, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association observe Better Hearing and Speech Month each May.

This month, they are holding a social media contest and providing an inforgraphic and a quiz about hearing loss, as well as other communication disorder information in press releases, information sheets, posters, and more.

May Is Better Hearing and Speech Month. Communication: The Key to Connection. National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders logo. Side profile of a woman’s face as she is speaking. Letters float out of her mouth and into the air.

According to the institute’s website, 48 million Americans have a form of communication disorder, while 37.5 million of us have hearing loss–that’s 15 percent of Americans.

NIDCD Hearing Loss and Hearing Aid Use Infographic

Want to use the infographic above? The institute has created a version you can upload to your website or blog here.

Currently, the institute supports research for promoting accessible health care and urges people who think they have hearing loss to have their hearing tested.

Since only 25 percent of Americans who could benefit from hearing aids have used them, there are potentially people who might want them who haven’t had access to them, or who may need them for safety or work-related issues.

On their website, you may take a quiz in the right-hand column to determine if you should have your hearing tested.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is promoting a social media contest to raise awareness. The association will award points for sharing information on social media and issue prizes for those earning the most points. Prizes will include Amazon gift cards and association promotional materials.

Learn what people with communication disorders, audiologists, speech-language pathologists are doing to raise awareness on this interactive, international map.

The association has also provided many press release materials and patient information handouts about hearing loss–in English and Spanish.

Sign Shares, Inc./International educates society about awareness issues concerning communication disorders through this blog and also on our website, including answering questions people ask about using sign language interpreters and information about how to empower communities by providing communication access.

Request sign language services from Sign Shares here.

 

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Styling Hair for People with Different Abilities

Planning ahead is a strategy that works for people of all abilities, and more so with people who have neurological disorders, wheelchairs, or hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Person gets hair cut by a person with tattoed arm and hair clips with scissors in their hands.
Hair stylists need different techniques to ensure all their customers get the royal treatment. photo credit: Stylist_Client-3 via photopin (license)

Cory Thomas, CEO/Founder of The Traveling Barbers “Hair Professionals For The Disabled,” was asked for some hair styling tips for people with neurological disorders in a recent article. This included clients who used wheelchairs.

He said, “Make sure the wheelchair are properly locked” and “Guard against flying hairs” by wrapping fabric around the wheelchair.

“Clippers shouldn’t be as sharp as they would be when working in an conventional barbershop or salon, so as to not hurt or bruise the client’s head from any sudden quick motions that may take place with someone who has a neurological disorder,” he said.

Going for simpler, “traditional” hairstyles and making sure clients are seeing familiar faces round out his suggestions.

A blogger for the Say What Club blog gave advice for styling hair for those who use hearing aids or other wearable equipment, such as cochlear implants. “We talked about their haircut/hairstyle before they took their aids off. After that, I made sure to face them while talking a little slower, if I asked more questions.”

With careful planning, a visit to a hair stylist can be a treasure for people with different abilities.

Deaf, hearing loss organizations unite for wireless access

Organizations representing the Deaf and partially deaf communities joined efforts to make wireless handsets accessible for hearing aids and cochlear implants. This includes cordless and mobile phones.

According to an article by the Hearing Loss Association of America, “When mobile technology moved from analog to digital in the 1990s, it created a huge barrier for people with hearing loss in that suddenly people with hearing loss who could use wireless handsets were faced with interference when they held the phone to their ear.”

a young woman talking to herself on the tin can phone
Many phones still aren’t accessible for hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Currently, 82 percent of mobile phones on the market are accessible for hearing technology. Only 66 percent of cordless phones are accessible. The association said it has joined with organizations to ensure greater telecommunications accessibility.

Man talks to video image
There’s an 18 percent chance this man’s mobile phone isn’t accessible for hearing aids or cochlear implants.

To do this, the association filed comment with the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC.

“We were joined in this filing by the Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TDI) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Together we make it clear that our goal has remained unchanged: we want to see 100 percent of wireless handsets built to be hearing aid compatible,” according to the association’s website.

Number 66
Percent of wireless handsets the phone industry had proposed to have accessible for hearing aids and cochlear implants. Advocate organizations for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community said that’s not enough.

According to a comment from the three organizations, “It’s our understanding that the Industry is proposing a modification of the HAC rule to require both manufacturers and service providers to increase the percentage of M-and T-rated HAC wireless handsets they sell to 66% . . . If adopted, Industry’s proposal would leave fully a third of wireless handsets potentially unusable for people with hearing aids or cochlear implants.”

The consumer groups “look forward to working with the Industry and the Commission to ensure greater access to wireless handsets for all consumers with hearing loss,” according to the comment.

 

President’s council reveals startling overcharges for hearing aids and solutions

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report on age- related hearing loss with recommendations to the president.

According to the report, “Aging American & Hearing Loss: Imperative of Improved Hearing Technologies,” “Only a fraction of consumers who need assistance with hearing obtain and use hearing aids, in large part because of high cost, complex dispensing procedures, social stigma, and performance shortfalls.”

Red hearing symbol
According to the report, hearing aids cost thousands to consumers, but only $100 or less to manufacturers.

The report focuses on making access to affordable technology more available. According to the report, cost keeps people from seeking out assistive technology for hearing loss. “A 2014 survey found that the average price of one hearing aid was $2,363, with premium models costing $2,898. Many, if not most, individuals need two hearing aids, one in each ear, doubling the cost.”

“One survey found that 64 percent of people with the most serious hearing loss reported that they could not afford a hearing aid, and over 75 percent identified financial factors as a barrier,” according to the report.

For older Americans, legislative action is required to allow Medicare to pay for hearing aids. One survey finds “50 percent of consumers identifying lack of insurance coverage as a barrier to their acquiring a hearing aid. That failure dates from the original 1966 Medicare amendments to the Social Security Act, which bar Medicare from covering hearing aids. Congressional action is required to change this policy . . .”

Blue hearing aid
Congress will have to make a law to allow Medicare coverage for hearing aids. First, they must be more affordable.

According to the report, legislation to permit Medicare coverage for hearing aids has been introduced by both political parties, but cost has prevented Congress from adopting the laws because of the number of Americans who could potentially need the technology. “If market forces were to lower costs, the analysis and potential for Congressional action would change.”

“When compared in complexity to today’s smartphones costing a few hundred dollars each, even premium-model hearing aids are simple devices but can cost several thousand dollars,” according to the report. “A 2010 study suggested that a hearing aid’s components then cost less than $100; the number today is likely less.”

Picture of pink piggy bank with one dollar symbol
Costco may offer the best prices on hearing aids.

There is room for innovation, according to the report, especially when there are only six manufacturers of hearing aids in the country. Which is the most affordable? “Costco now accounts for about 10 percent of all hearing aids sold, and it sells its house brand (reportedly manufactured by one of the big six manufacturers) for about one-third of the typical retail price. . .”

Asian woman has hand over ear.
Education is needed so that more seniors embrace having hearing aids.

Besides cost, seniors may avoid getting hearing aids because they are worried about how others will perceive them. “Public education can play a role in expanding use, and the arrival of the Baby Boomers as new seniors with different attitudes, including greater familiarity with wearable electronics and greater use, may shift attitudes toward social acceptance,” according to the report.

In a recent email, the Hearing Loss Association of America said it “enthusiastically endorses ” the new report, which it says will “serve to open the market for new innovation in hearing device technologies and also increase choice for consumers with hearing aids…”

Otoscope, or device used to check ears
What would happen if people didn’t have to visit doctors to get hearing aids?

According to the association’s email, the report makes four claims. Two regard the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. One claim is that the FDA “should approve a class of hearing aids for “over-the-counter sales” without requiring an audiologist or doctor.  Another is that the FDA should withdraw a “draft guidance on Personal Sound Amplification Products that would forbid the manufacturers “from making truthful claims about the functionality of the product in certain situations…”

Potential problems with this would be some individuals might purchase hearing devices not understanding non-age-related potential causes of hearing loss, including earwax, fluid, or a condition that may be causing hearing loss as a side effect.

Audiogram, or hearing test profile showing hearing loss levels
Shareable hearing tests would allow people to share their hearing needs with their vendor of choice.

According to association’s email, the report also recommends that the Federal Trade Commission should require hearing-aid dispensers to “provide the customer with a copy of their results at no additional cost” and “define a process to authorize hearing aid vendors to obtain a copy of a customer’s hearing test results . . . from any audiologist who performs such a test . . .”

While the council’s report recommends changes affecting the hearing aid marketplace, Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission, it closes with the alternative: “the costs and risks of inaction with respect to untreated hearing loss in the aging U.S. population are large.”

Resulting changes would make hearing aids more affordable for all, while enabling Congress to finally allow Medicare to cover hearing aid purchases.