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.