The Rising Cost of Healthcare and its Effects on Untreated Hearing Loss

It comes as no surprise to most people that the cost of healthcare is rising year by year. From an increase in the cost of services to prescriptions, it can be noted across America. From the younger working class through retirees living on a fixed income, there are few that it has not touched.
There is one certain demographic group that is more affected than most. For people who are living with an untreated hearing loss, the cost of health care is likely even higher than that of the average American.
According to a study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, older adults who are living with untreated hearing loss tend to spend considerably more in health care costs than people who don’t have any type of hearing loss. In fact, research shows that approximately 46 percent more is spent on health care costs, which comes to a surprising total of $22,434 per person over the course of ten years. This total was comprised of $20,403 paid by the individual’s health plan and $2,030 paid out-of-pocket.
As one of the largest studies revolving around this topic, Johns Hopkins performed it in collaboration with AARP, OptumLabs, and the University of California San Francisco. Tracking patients for a solid ten years, the researchers noted an expenditure difference between those with hearing loss and those without as soon as two years after hearing loss was diagnosed. They did not include anyone with hearing loss that had been using a hearing device.
By obtaining de-identified health information from over 77,000 patients within the OptumLabs Data Warehouse, researchers were able to utilize records from 1999 to 2016. They targeted those who had the most likely chance of age-related hearing loss that had gone untreated but excluded patients who had a medical condition or toxic agent that was responsible for the loss.
All patients were enrolled in either Medicare Advantage plans or larger, private U.S. health care plans. After matching the patients up with others located within the database, the team of researchers compared them on over 25 factors which included:

  • Baseline health conditions
  • Days with at least one outpatient visit
  • Demographic characteristics
  • Emergency department visits
  • Health care costs
  • Inpatient hospitalizations
  • Readmissions within 30 days

Trends were noted at two, five, and ten-year marks. Beyond the ten-year mark, researchers confirmed that for those living with an untreated hearing loss, they faced approximately 50 percent more stays in a hospital and their hospital readmission risk within 30 days was approximately 44 percent higher. They were also more likely to experience an emergency room visit by about 17 percent and experienced roughly 52 more outpatient visits a year than those without hearing loss.
While these numbers could be raised dramatically due to costs incurred strictly for services related to hearing loss, it’s very likely because there are other inherent risks to having untreated hearing loss. According to Jennifer A. Deal, a Ph.D. assistant with the Bloomberg School Epidemiology Department and her team of colleagues, there is a greater risk of morbidity or serious and lasting effects in people who do not seek treatment for their loss.
When compared to people who do not have a hearing loss, per 100 people over the course of ten years suffer through:

  • 2 more diagnosis for dementia (approximately 50 percent over ten years)
  • 6 more falls are taken (approximately 30 percent over ten years)
  • 9 are diagnosed with depression (approximately 40 percent over ten years)

“We don’t yet know if treating hearing loss could help prevent these problems,” Deal says. “But it’s important for us to figure out because over two-thirds of adults age 70 years and older have clinically significant hearing loss that may impact everyday quality of life. We need to better understand these relationships to determine if treatment for hearing loss could potentially reduce risk and help maintain health in older adults.”
Deal also noted that depression finding is important. “There aren’t a lot of studies using objectively measured hearing loss showing this association, even though it seems pretty intuitive.”
Communication is also a significant stepping stone to consider. If there is a communication barrier between the patient and the health care provider due to hearing loss, it could account for some of the increase in costs. Patients may experience difficulty explaining symptoms or understanding treatments that they are offered. They also may not understand any instructions given upon their discharge from the hospital. This doesn’t bode well for their ability to care for themselves after the initial treatment.
Thanks to a new federal law, beginning in 2020, adults across the U.S. will have access to devices that amplify their hearing in over-the-counter transactions. Hopefully, this combined with extra training for doctors and other health care providers will help bring awareness to the health care system and insurance companies that these patients could use a more structured service.


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