ASHA Applauds Proposed New Legislation Providing Medicare Beneficiaries Better Access to Audiologists' Services

ASHA Led Efforts With AAA and ADA to Help Seniors With Their Hearing Health Care Needs

July 26, 2019

(Rockville, MD) New bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Tom Rice (R-SC) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives would significantly enhance federal benefits for hearing health by providing Medicare beneficiaries critical direct access to both diagnostic and therapeutic services of audiologists—a move championed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). The bill, the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act of 2019, is also endorsed by the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) and Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA).

The legislation (H.R. 4056) would remove unnecessary barriers to hearing health care under Medicare, allowing patients to receive appropriate, timely, and cost-effective audiologic services. Currently, Medicare requires a physician order for patients to see an audiologist—and covers only diagnostic services provided by the audiologist without allowing for follow-up treatment or a plan of care.

By allowing direct access to audiologic services and streamlining Medicare coverage policies so that audiologists can provide the full range of Medicare-covered diagnostic and treatment services that correspond to their scope of practice, the legislation can improve health outcomes for beneficiaries. The legislation would also reclassify audiologists as practitioners, which is consistent with the way Medicare recognizes other non-physician providers, such as clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, and advanced practice registered nurses.

The legislation is supported by a bipartisan group of legislators that includes U.S. Representatives Mark Meadows (R-NC), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Ann Kuster (D-NH), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE).

"Seniors who suffer from hearing conditions shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to see their preferred audiologist," said Rep. Rice. “The Medicare Audiology Access and Services Act cuts through the red tape to help Medicare patients access quality, affordable care. I will continue to reach across the aisle to find straightforward solutions to health care problems."

"It is imperative that Congress move this legislation through quickly to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries have timely access to audiologists' diagnostic and therapeutic services for hearing and balance conditions," ASHA President Shari Robertson, PhD, said. "Untreated hearing loss can adversely affect quality of life and lead to other conditions, such as cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, and social isolation."

Hearing loss is one of the most common, chronic health conditions facing seniors. Nearly 25% of adults ages 65–74 and 50% of those who are ages 75 and older have disabling hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 204,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.

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