Although 27 million Americans over the age of 50 have hearing loss, only 14 percent use a hearing aid.1 There are many reasons why seniors may let their hearing loss go untreated — a big one being sticker shock. The average cost of one hearing aid hovers around $2,300, and if you need to purchase two of them, it can definitely be a blow to your budget.
If you're living on a fixed income, or simply want a great deal on hearing aids, there are some resources to check out. Getting free or reduced-cost hearing aids is possible, but we have to admit it isn't always easy. We've done some digging on discounts, resources, and insurance in hopes of helping seniors save money on a hearing aid purchase or possibly get free hearing aids altogether!
Can You Get Free Hearing Aids?
You can follow several avenues to save big bucks on hearing aids. Here is a quick overview of your options, then we'll dive into the details to see if you qualify.
- The Veterans Health Administration
- Vocational rehab
- National and state foundations
- Insurance and Medicare
Watch the video below for the inside scoop on how to get free or reduced-cost hearing aids. Audiologist Brad Ingrao chats with Jeff Hoyt, our editor-in-chief, about everything you need to know:
Can You Get Free Hearing Aids From the Veterans Health Administration (the VA)?
Hearing loss is the most common service-related injury for U.S. veterans.2 If you were in the service and are experiencing hearing loss in your golden years, the Veterans Health Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), may be able to give you free hearing aids, or at least a significant discount on them.
How to Qualify for VA Healthcare
To get hearing aids from the VA, you'll need to apply for healthcare coverage through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). This arm of the VA addresses current healthcare needs; it does not establish service connection for any injuries or disabilities you may have incurred during your service. You can apply online or over the phone. You may also be able to establish eligibility at a local VA Medical Center or Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC). You'll need your DD-214 and health insurance cards. The VA will also do a “means test,” so having a few years of tax returns handy can speed up the process.
Once you are deemed eligible for general VA healthcare, you are automatically eligible for audiology care, including hearing evaluations, hearing aids, assistive hearing technologies, and even cochlear implants if you need them. The VHA also provides comprehensive evaluation and treatment for tinnitus.
If your income is above a certain level, you may be required to pay about $100 in copayments for the evaluation and fitting, but the cost of the devices themselves are fully covered if you are eligible. Batteries, consumable supplies like wax guards, and follow-up care are also provided. If you are eligible but already bought hearing aids elsewhere, you can register them with the VA and then get these supplies at no cost.
VA-issued hearing aids are all “premium” level from the “big six” (Oticon, Phonak, ReSound, Signia, Starkey, and Widex) and their immediate subsidiaries (Unitron, Rexton, etc.). The VA contract also covers accessories like Bluetooth streamers, advanced remote microphones, and even specialized alerting systems that ensure you hear important alerts like smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
We recommend finding your nearest VA facility to discuss hearing aid benefits with a local representative in person or over the phone. They can help you navigate finding treatment and exploring possible coverage for your hearing loss.
If you feel your hearing loss is due to your military service, you will need to open a claim with the Veterans Benefits Administration. If you are eligible for VHA healthcare, you do not need a service connection for hearing loss or tinnitus to get hearing aids from the VA.
Does Medicaid Pay for Hearing Aids?
In the U.S., Medicaid hearing aid coverage varies from state to state. Some states may cover hearing assessments and maintenance, while other states cover the entire device. Unfortunately, some states don't offer any Medicaid coverage for hearing services and devices, leaving some low-income seniors to pay out of pocket. To find out what you qualify for, we recommend contacting your state's Medicaid office to learn more. Also, the Hearing Loss Association of America provides a comprehensive list of what each state covers.
If you discover that hearing aids aren't covered by Medicaid in your state, or you're not eligible for Medicaid, no reason to lose hope. You may be able to take advantage of one of the other resources below!
Will Vocational Rehabilitation Pay for Hearing Aids?
Vocational rehabilitation helps people who have disabilities get or keep a job. If you are an older adult who has yet to retire and need hearing aids to perform your job duties or obtain employment, you may be able to receive a hearing aid through your state's vocational rehabilitation program. Seniors can see if their state offers hearing aid coverage and if they qualify for vocational rehabilitation services by contacting their state office.
National and State Resources for Free Hearing Aids
Many agencies and foundations at the national and state levels provide assistance to seniors in purchasing hearing aids. For seniors seeking financial hearing aid assistance, it is just a matter of contacting these foundations and filling out any necessary applications to see if you qualify for help. It can take some time, but if it saves you thousands of dollars, we think it is worth it!
For a list of financial assistance options, visit HearingLoss.org. You may also find an option through the list provided by the Hearing Aid Project at the state or national level. Your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) may also be able to direct you to local resources.
Hearing Aid Foundations May Offer Assistance
Some major hearing aid companies, like Miracle-Ear and Starkey, have established foundations to provide hearing aids to people who need them but may not be able to afford them. You can visit the Miracle-Ear Foundation and Starkey Hearing Foundation websites to fill out an application and see if you qualify for assistance from them.
Does Insurance Cover Hearing Aids?
Most private insurance plans cover hearing assessments and hearing aid fittings, but it is rare for health insurance to completely cover hearing aids. You may have a copay or have to pay completely out of pocket for the hearing devices. Some plans may contract with a certain hearing aid provider to get you a discounted price, so you might get a better deal on a high-quality hearing aid by using the provider your insurance plan has contracted with.
Plans vary greatly, so it is important to call your provider and make sure you know the details of your plan. Here are some important questions we suggest you ask when speaking with a representative:
- What is my hearing aid benefit?
- Are the benefits limited to a specific model or brand of hearing aid?
- Do I have to use a certain in-network provider?
Also, ask for your benefits to be sent to you in writing via mail or email. This will make sure you know exactly what you have coverage for and hold your insurance provider accountable.
Some Medicare Advantage plans provide hearing aid coverage, while others don't. Plans vary depending on your state and insurance company. The best course of action is to call your Medicare Advantage representative and inquire about the specifics of your plan and the hearing services it covers.
Health Savings Plans
If you have exhausted other resources and end up having to pay for your hearing aids out of pocket, don't forget to use your health savings plan if you have one! Since hearing aids are medical devices, you can use a health savings plan for the purchase. You can use the following health savings plans to purchase hearing aids:
- Flexible spending account (FSA)
- Health savings account (HSA)
- Health reimbursement account (HRA)