UnitedHealthcare and AARP are teaming up on a new program to reduce the cost of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.
Hearing loss affects 48 million people in the U.S. and is ranked as the third most common chronic condition. In August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids directly to consumers.
Through AARP Hearing Solutions, which UnitedHealthcare is now administering, the nearly 38 million members of AARP can buy hearing aids through UnitedHealthcare Hearing. Prices start as low as $699 per hearing aid, according to the company, and members also get professional support from a licensed hearing professional plus personalized assistance from UnitedHealthcare Hearing during and after purchase.
For many people without a hearing health care plan or insurance coverage that offers savings on hearing aids, access to care and high prices have historically been barriers to obtaining treatment for hearing loss, with the price of one prescription hearing aid typically ranging between $1,000 and $4,000. About 80% of people who could benefit from using a hearing aid don’t have one, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Untreated hearing loss is linked to higher rates of depression and dementia as well as increased risk of falls, according to UnitedHealthcare executives.
"We sit in a unique spot where, as part of United Healthcare, we see the whole health of an individual and firmly believe that hearing health is part of overall health and well-being," Dave Falda, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Hearing, said in an interview.
"Hearing loss, unfortunately, impacts millions of individuals across the country and many don't seek care. Programs like this really bring visibility, consistency and transparency that allows people to ultimately seek more care," he said. "Hearing loss is tied to things like dementia, it has ties to social isolation and depression, greater risk of falls and greater risk of hospitalization. This program is not just about the technology and the savings, it's also about the importance of treating hearing health as part of your overall health."
The program does not require users to have UnitedHealthcare insurance, but they must be AARP members.
"It’s a new audience for us to reach. With hearing health care on the rise, it's a great opportunity, while there's such awareness and appeal, to make sure that we can reach an audience that is absolutely looking for something like this," Falda said.
Through the program, AARP members also have access to UnitedHealthcare Hearing’s national provider network of thousands of hearing health care professionals for no-cost hearing tests and in-person assistance for fittings, adjustments and support, plus direct delivery and virtual care options, the organizations said.
"While OTC hearing aids are a big opportunity right now for delivering hearing healthcare to a wider audience, right now, the most trusted and proven method is through in-person care. We have hearing care professionals throughout the country that can deliver in-person care. While AARP members are in the office, they can receive a hearing test which starts the journey and allows them to get educated on the process. They'll walk members through the options and then ultimately, there are great savings on prescription hearing aids in that office setting," Falda said.
The program also enables AARP members to access program pricing on OTC hearing aids, which are a new option for people with self-diagnosed mild to moderate hearing loss. After completing an optional online hearing test, AARP members can order OTC hearing aids from brands including Jabra Enhance Plus and Lexie B2, powered by Bose.
"We've been able to begin to strike partnerships within that arena to bring over-the-counter products to the market as well," Falda said.
As the OTC hearing aid market is new to consumers, Falda sees opportunities for UnitedHealthcare to serve as an educational resource as the market evolves.
"We will continue to evaluate OTC products. There are many coming to market, and it will certainly be a great chance for more solutions, but it's also more confusing because there are many options. We certainly want to be able to be a trusted point of truth to steer people toward proven solutions. I think our website will be a great resource for folks to research and get guided in the right direction," he said.
Greg Marion, AARP Services senior vice president of health products and services, said offering members exclusive pricing on over-the-counter hearing aids could be a "game changer for people with untreated hearing loss."
"By providing members with hearing aid options that are best-in-class and affordable, we found that UnitedHealthcare Hearing was the best fit to serve AARP members' hearing care needs," Marion said.