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August 16, 2004

Baby Boomers pushing for hearing coverage

Aging baby boomers - the large post World War II generation - are leading the push for insurance coverage for hearing care in the United States. They want hearing tests and hearing aids covered in the same way as vision or dental care.

As a result, hearing care coverage is being considered by a growing number of company health care plans although the economic conditions in the first half of 2003 slowed the progress, at least temporarily.

Of the more than 75 million Americans born between 1945 and 1964, 16 million suffer from some degree of hearing loss. Most of them are still in the work force. Especially those among them who are in high management positions are pushing to explore hearing coverage for company health care plans.

At the same time, however, hearing care coverage is among those benefits hardest hit in times of cost cutting even though the interest in hearing issues is expected to be on a steady increase for decades to come as the baby boomer generation ages.

According to a national survey, 19% of large American companies offered a hearing plan for their employees in 2001. 16% included the benefit in their overall medical coverage, while 3% offered separate hearing health care plans.

By contrast, vision care was offered by 64% of the 945 companies in the survey conducted by Hewitt Associates LLC, based in Illinois.

According to Ronna Fisher, a licensed audiologist at Hearing Health Center Inc. in Chicago, many companies worry about the cost of hearing coverage because of the high cost of hearing aids, which can cost several thousand dollars apiece. But ultimately, she argues, it will cost an employer less to cover a basic hearing test than having employees make a disastrous mistake. In addition, utilization of hearing benefits is lower than most companies might fear.

Source: Crain's Chicago Business, 5th of August, 2002.

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