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Hearing Loss Trends Over a Decade

Hearing loss trends over the last 10 years show significant costs for the untreated

In 2018, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted one of the largest studies to focus on the issue of hearing loss. The study was performed over the course of 10 years in collaboration with AARP, University of California, and OptumLabs, and was focused on two groups, older adults with hearing loss and older adults without hearing loss.

The study titled “Trends in Health Care Costs and Utilization Associated with Untreated Hearing Loss Over 10 Years” was first published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery in November 2018. The study was conducted from 1999-2016 with adults 50 years or older. The participants were observed between 2, 5 and 10 years.

Within the first two years of the study researchers found significant differences in the health care costs of adults with untreated hearing loss than the adults who without hearing loss. Those who had hearing loss accumulated nearly 26% more in total health care costs. The gap only widened in the following eight years. By 10 years, the adults surveyed with untreated hearing loss increased to 46%, which amounts to $22,434 per individual. This breaks down to $20,403 incurred by the health plan and $2.030 of out-of-pocket costs per individual.

The study also showed that the adults with untreated hearing loss also had more hospital stays, 50% more. They also found they had about a 44% higher risk of hospital readmission within 30 days, 17% were more likely to visit an emergency room and had around 52% more outpatient visits.

Other findings from the study showed individuals with progressive, untreated hearing loss had a higher risk of dementia and cognitive decline, falls, depression, greater risk of chronic diseases, and lower quality of life, confirming earlier studies.

What does this mean for you? 

Around Twenty-two million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels in the workplace, and over 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to toxic chemicals, some of which are harmful to the ear and risky to hearing. Ways in which trends among those untreated for hearing loss affects your members and organization include:

  • Hearing loss is the most common workplace injury, according to the CDC and is a contributing factor to workplace accidents and injuries.
  • Hearing loss frequently interferes with communication, concentration, and job performance.
  • Untreated hearing loss can have a negative impact on a worker’s lifetime earning potential.
  • Untreated hearing loss can lead to slips, trips, and falls that can lead to long-term injury, workers’ compensation, and loss in productivity. According to the Bureau of Statistics, slips, trips, and falls cause nearly 700 fatalities per year.
  • Work-related hearing loss can cost organizations an estimated $242 million in worker’s compensation claims.

Making an impact 

Approximately 28.8 million Americans who have hearing loss could benefit from using hearing aids. Generally, the high cost of hearing aids can derail those who would be helped by them the most. It’s important as a health plan administrator to offer a plan that can help your members preserve their hearing through screenings, provide access to a wide network of hearing health professionals, offer affordable coverage, and access to the latest technology and hearing aids. Working with a hearing healthcare partner that can provide these services and more can ensure your member’s ears and that of their families are protected.