On July 19, 2023, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) led their colleagues in introducing the bipartisan Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act, legislation to ensure that seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare are able to access a full range of hearing and balance health care services provided by licensed audiologists, who are trained and licensed in all 50 states and U.S. territories, including the District of Columbia. The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Angus King (I-Maine). Companion legislation is slated to be introduced in the House by Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA).
The American Academy of Audiology (AAA), Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) endorse this legislation as a top priority to ensure expedient and optimal hearing and balance health care for the older adult population in the United States.
Outdated Medicare rules have created barriers to care and are far more restrictive than many private and federal insurance plans including Medicare Advantage, VA health coverage and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan. Medicare currently does not recognize audiologists as providers of most hearing-related services and will only allow reimbursement for a narrow set of tests to diagnose a hearing or balance disorder—and only if patients first obtain an order from a physician.
This legislation would provide a commonsense solution to modernize Medicare regulations to ensure beneficiaries have access to a full range of hearing and balance health care services provided by licensed audiologists. The bill would:
- Classify audiologists as “practitioners”- consistent with how Medicare treats similar allied health care professionals– such as clinical social workers and clinical psychologists
- Remove the physician order requirement, which does not exist with any other federal or commercial payer
- Allow audiologists to provide and be reimbursed for diagnostic and treatment services
- Add audiologists as practitioners in Rural Health Clinics and FQHCs.
- Make no changes to the current scope of Medicare hearing health benefits or the scope of practice of audiologists