State Program Aims To Help Missouri Residents Purchase Hearing Aids | St. Louis Public Radio

State Program Aims To Help Missouri Residents Purchase Hearing Aids

Sep 2, 2019

Low-income Missouri residents in need of hearing aids may find relief in a new state program.

The Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing will help residents living at or below the federal poverty line purchase hearing aids. The Hearing Aid Distribution Program, established this summer, is designed to offset the cost of these expensive devices.

An estimated 600,000 people in Missouri are deaf or hard of hearing, according to state data.

Although hearing aid technology has advanced in recent years, the cost can be a barrier for some. The average cost of a pair of hearing aids is $4,700, according to a study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Unless hearing loss occurs at a young age, many insurance providers, including Medicare, consider hearing aids an “elective procedure”—and won’t cover the cost. 

Those who can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs may forego hearing aids, often with serious consequences.

Hearing loss is an “invisible disability” that can prevent a person from living an independent life, said Opeoluwa Sotonwa, executive director of the commission.

“The big challenge is communication,” said Sotonwa, who is deaf. “It affects every facet of our lives: our ability to hold down a job, to go to the market to buy things, to make appointments with doctors. It’s very challenging to live without the ability to hear.”

Living with untreated hearing loss is also linked to a variety of health issues, including dementia, depression and cardiovascular disease.

“This is not going to fix every issue,” Sotonwa said of the program. “We have to start small. The key focus is to help those who do not use sign language in their day-to-day communication.”

The Hearing Aid Distribution Program began accepting applications Aug. 28.

In order to qualify, Missouri residents must provide a written cost estimate from a licensed vendor, hearing test results and documentation to verify their annual income. 

Gov. Mike Parson signed SB 101 in July, creating the new Hearing Aid Distribution Program. 

The program received about $100,000 in state funding this year, which Sotonwa estimates will cover the hearing aid costs for about 20 applicants. He said the commission plans to apply for $5 million in additional funding during the next legislative session. 

For more information:

Application: https://mcdhh.mo.gov/hadp/

Contact: Kristin Funk, Kristin.Funk@mcdhh.mo.gov, 573-526-5205

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org