Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Many older Americans who are poor continue to struggle with finding access to hearing care services, a new study says.
Last year, 71 percent of low-income people who use hearing aids did not receive hearing care services, according to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs. Additionally, only 58 percent of high-income users accessed those services.
"This study highlights the fact that hearing aids alone don't necessarily improve hearing -- hearing care services are important too, but there are barriers that prevent many people from accessing those services," Nicholas Reed, researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and study co-author, said in a news release.
About two-thirds of Americans over age 70 experience some hearing loss, which experts have associated with depression, dementia and an increased risk of falling. Still, most older adults don't wear hearing aids.
Medicare also doesn't cover hearing aids or the services used to fit them, and Medicaid only covers limited services in only 28 states, which researchers say makes the problem worse.
The cost of hearing aids continues to saddle older Americans, particularly people living in poverty. Along with the cost of $2,000 for a single hearing aid unit, only certain retailers can sell hearing aids.
Next year, however, there might be some relief. With the passage of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 in Congress, people will be able to purchase hearing aids over the counter from FDA-approved manufacturers by 2020.
"Probably that will make hearing aids more affordable," Reed said. "But it won't affect the barriers to accessing hearing care services, which generally are needed to optimize the function of these devices. Most people, if you put two hearing aids in their hand, will have little idea of what to do with them."
The study researchers recommend removing the Medicare exclusion from covering hearing aids and broadening the hearing services Medicaid currently already does cover.
"If Medicare were to cover hearing care services, then that should improve access to those services, which over time should result in better functioning hearing aids for older people," Reed said.