Untreated Hearing Loss Costs Health Insurers More Per Member

Last update on Jan, 16, 2019

Hearing loss increases health care utilization costs

Over a decade, health insurance companies paid out an extra $20,403 for older adults with untreated hearing loss, compared to those with no hearing loss, according to a new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Individuals with untreated hearing loss incurred, on average, 46% higher total health care costs — or $22,434 — versus their normal-hearing peers, based on 10 years of study data. Of that, health plans paid $20,403, with the remainder paid out of pocket by members. Only about $600 of the total amount cited in this study was attributed to the cost of hearing health care services.

The study found that, compared to those with no hearing loss, participants who had untreated hearing loss:

  • Experienced approximately 50% more hospital stays
  • Had about a 44% higher risk for hospital readmission within 30 days
  • Were 17% more likely to have an emergency department visit
  • Had about 52 more outpatient visits over the 10-year period

Researchers don’t yet understand why untreated hearing loss drives up health care utilization and costs. However, as reported previously in this blog, a number of studies have connected untreated hearing loss with a greater risk for costly health conditions, including dementia, depression and injury-causing falls.

These correlations are supported by data from the Johns Hopkins study, which revealed that untreated hearing loss is independently associated with an increased risk of the following conditions, compared to people with no hearing loss:

  • Estimated 50% greater risk of dementia
  • 40% greater risk of depression
  • Nearly 30% higher risk of falling

Another contributor to higher health care costs, says a Johns Hopkins researcher, may be the inability of hearing-impaired individuals to communicate effectively with their health care providers, possibly leading to missed opportunities for preventive care or early intervention.

A hearing benefit is a winning proposition for health insurers

With this new study, the profound impact of untreated hearing loss on health care usage and total health care costs is coming into clearer focus. And so is the burden on health insurers: more than $20,000 per individual over a 10-year period.

The obvious question now: Can treatment of hearing loss help reduce overall health care costs? Researchers don’t yet definitively know the answer to this question. However, based on what we know about the correlation between untreated hearing loss and certain high-cost health conditions, the answer would appear to be affirmative.

Health insurers, and particularly Medicare Advantage plans, can play an important role in making health care more accessible to their members. Offering a hearing benefit can substantially reduce the cost of hearing aids and related services, incentivizing members to get the help they need. Along the way, health plans may be able to reduce overall spend on health care services for their members.

Ready to offer a hearing benefit?

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Contact Amplifon today for more information and for help with designing a hearing benefit for your members.

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