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Cartwright and Bilirakis Sponsor Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Seniors' Access to Hearing Service

This week, Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) filed the Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act to expand seniors’ access to audiology and hearing services. This important piece of legislation fixes a long-standing access barrier that punishes both seniors and audiologists and increases the choices Medicare patients have when treating their hearing needs.

Under current Medicare rules, seniors are unable to access the full range of services that independent audiologists provide under their existing scope of practice, despite these services already being covered under existing law. The Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act will end this inequity by allowing independent audiologists to directly bill Medicare for services that are already covered under the law and within their existing scope of practice. The bill also makes technical changes to remove the pre-treatment order requirement, which does not exist with any other federal or commercial payer, and further clarifies that audiologists can provide these services at Rural Health Centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers.

“Age-related hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Left untreated, it can lead to other health risks, including dementia and falls,” said Congressman Cartwright. “Outdated Medicare rules make it difficult for seniors with hearing loss to get the care they need. That’s why I’m glad to be working with my colleagues across the aisle to ensure seniors can access a full range of hearing and balance healthcare services provided by licensed audiologists.”

“Medicare reimbursement policies should be patient-centered and maximize patient choice whenever possible,” said Congressman Bilirakis.  “Updating these policies to allow licensed audiologists to fully participate in Medicare will bring greater parity and provide seniors with improved access to hearing health and balance care.”

“The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association thanks Representatives Bilirakis and Cartwright for reintroducing this critical legislation, which will provide Medicare beneficiaries with more timely and robust access to hearing and balance care provided by audiologists,” said Robert Augustine, PhD, CCC-SLP, 2023 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association President. “Audiologists are best positioned to assess and treat hearing-related problems that, left unaddressed, can lead to loneliness, social isolation, depression, dementia, and cognitive decline. These all can diminish quality of life and impose significant costs on older Americans, further straining Medicare’s financial stability. ASHA looks forward to continued collaboration with these leaders and our allied partners to enact this bill as soon as possible—and to remove unnecessary bureaucratic barriers that prevent seniors from getting the hearing and balance care they need, when they need it.”

“We applaud Representative Bilirakis and Representative Cartwright for championing the Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act to reduce treatment delays and out of pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries seeking hearing and balance services that will improve their health, safety, and well-being,” said Dawn Heiman, Au.D., President of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology. “This landmark legislation aligns Medicare Part B policies with evidence-based practices to optimize clinical outcomes, to promote Medicare system efficiencies, and to deploy scarce healthcare workforce resources most judiciously.”

Advancing this legislation is necessary to remove outdated barriers that prevent older Americans from receiving the hearing health and balance care coverage that they need and deserve,” explains American Academy of Audiology President, Bopanna Ballachanda, PhD.  “Treating hearing loss and balance disorders improves an individual’s ability to communicate and connect with loved ones, decreases risk for falls, and results in a greater overall quality of life.  Passage of this cost-effective legislation will give patients timely access to these services and strengthen support for seniors’ mental health and mental acuity in the process.”