The Long Road to Getting a Hearing Aid
Two years ago, I helped a friend to get a hearing aid. She had one, but it was obviously not working or not adequate because she could not hear adequately over the phone and often did not hear sounds in her home. Her hearing problem finally became obvious to her when she complained to me about a squeaking noise that had kept her up at night. When I went over to her house to check it out, the noise was a loud piercing, chirp coming from her smoke alarm because the battery was out of power. The continuous noise was very loud to me, but to her, it was only a faint squeak. She finally realized that she needed to get two good hearing aids. It was a matter of safety, as well as convenience in communicating.
She had obtained a hearing aid from Medicaid nine years earlier. She was supposed to be able to get a new hearing aid from Medicaid every five years, but had never done so. Getting to appointments is a little difficult because she is mobility impaired and has no car. If I drove her however, I could take her to get a hearing aid. That seemed easy enough.
Was I wrong about that!
I heard that Costco did free hearing screening, so I took her to a local Costco for a screening, hoping that she would find out about her level of hearing loss in both ears, and then be able to seek out a hearing aid. The screening could not be done because she had ear wax in her ears.
I thought about the local hospital where her family practitioner’s office was. The otolaryngologist (ear doctor) there did not take Medicaid patients however. I could not find any ear doctor in our area who would take a Medicaid patient.
Removing ear wax is not all that difficult; surely a family practice doctor could do that. So, I took her to a low-income clinic where the family practice doctors do take Medicaid patients. The doctor told her that he couldn’t remove ear wax because he had no equipment to do so. He did offer to do a pap smear instead. Not very helpful.
So, I finally bought her some ear wax remover at a pharmacy, and hoped that it worked. It did.
Refusing to accept defeat, I called an advocacy organization for the deaf and talked to an advisor there. She gave me the name of an otolaryngologist or ENT doctor who worked with the deaf and hearing-impaired patients in this area.
Searching online, I found a foundation run by that particular ear doctor. He realized that many hearing impaired, low income people cannot afford hearing aids, but definitely do need them, and his foundation helped these patients get treatment and hearing aids. The ear doctor’s office was 50 miles away or more, but it seemed that this was the only help available to her. If the foundation accepted her application, she could receive a free physical exam of her ears, a hearing evaluation, and a prescription for a hearing aid paid for by Medicaid.
Since my friend could not hear over the phone, I called the foundation and explained her situation. She was sent paperwork for her to complete about her medical history, her income and assets to show that she needed a hearing aid, but couldn’t afford one. There were lots of trips to make copies of various documents to show her need. Since she depends totally on Medicaid for her healthcare, she could only receive one hearing aid every five years from Medicaid. Still, if she could use her old aid and get a new one, what an improvement that would be!
Getting that Hearing Aid
After about three months, the foundation’s office finally informed her that she could have an appointment. Traveling to the appointment across two counties took hours, but the wait was worthwhile. The audiologists were very thorough. They checked her nine year- old hearing aid to see that it did work properly. The doctor was very professional and courteous. The staff was helpful. She was informed that she had a profound hearing loss in both ears. She left with a prescription for one new hearing aid. Now, she could use her old one in one ear and her new one and hear much more effectively. She was very grateful to the foundation and to the thoughtfulness of this doctor.
We were referred to a Beltone Hearing Center near her home, and got the paperwork to get her a hearing aid there. The technician was very kind and professional. She took the time to make sure that both hearing aids fit and worked. I can’t say enough good things about the kind professionals we met at the Beltone office. When my friend said that she had problems hearing over the phone, the receptionist also arranged for her to receive a state-provided adaptive telephone free of charge.
Now, for the first time in many years, my friend is hearing over the phone and face-to-face effectively and adequately with two working hearing aids and an adaptive phone. Finally!
Don’t give up!
Yet, the fact that it took a full year to get the hearing aid for her was disappointing. Why hadn’t she received another hearing aid five years after the first one? First, she did not think she needed one. A hearing impaired person is not aware of what she can’t hear. Second, she had never been told by a physician that her hearing was getting worse, even though she had seen her family practitioner for check-ups regularly. Then, there were no ENT’s who would accept Medicaid patients near her home anyway. She could not have afforded a hearing aid without using Medicaid. Hearing aids are terribly expensive, I was surprised to learn. And then, there is the fact that she couldn’t communicate by phone effectively to ask for help or to make appointments. She has no car and no internet. There were so many “bumps” on the way to getting one hearing aid, so it should not be surprising that many people who need hearing aids give up before they get one.
Do you need a hearing aid, but you have given up on getting one? Please try again. Ask a friend to make the phone call to your family physician and get a hearing evaluation or a referral for a hearing evaluation. Ask the Area Agency on Aging for a list of ENT’s in your area. If you can’t afford an exam or hearing evaluation, call the area Medicaid or Medicare office for help. Check with the local Lions Club or other fraternal and charitable organizations to see if they will help you pay for a hearing aid out of pocket, if your insurance will not cover it. Get online and see if there is a non-profit organization or a university hospital center that helps the hearing impaired near you.
Keep at it until you get the hearing aid you need. What a surprising improvement in your life!