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Obamacare mandate forces Connecticut to cover retiree hearing aids

Connecticut state retirees are having a new benefit added to their healthcare package as a result of anti-discrimination laws in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Starting in July, hearing aids will be covered by the state retiree health plans. The devices cost, on average, about $4,500 according to the American Association for Retired Persons.

Previously, insurance companies covered the costs of hearing aids for children 12 and under. State retirees were able to obtain a discount on hearing aids through Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield. However, based on the ACA’s restrictions, that age-based limit is considered discriminatory.

This increase in coverage is not limited to state retirees but applies to all insurance plans. In June of 2015, the Connecticut Insurance Department reviewed the ACA and sent a bulletin to all insurers licensed in the state which required “carriers to remove the age limits on hearing aid benefits for policies issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2016.”

The federally enforced expansion of benefits will effect the cost of insurance premiums.

“All of these things have a premium impact,” said Keith Stover, spokesman for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans. “Its impossible to wish away increases in premiums due to an expansion of benefits. It’s not a right or wrong issue, it’s straightforward math.” Stover added that it was important to keep in mind that this is a federal mandate and out of the state’s control.

This added benefit comes as the state faces growing deficits due, in part, to the underfunded retiree pension and healthcare costs. Connecticut will spend $731 million on retiree health care in FY 2017, according to analysis by the Hartford Courant. Tara Downes, spokeswoman for the comptroller’s office says they are working on a cost analysis but adds that it will be “complicated.”

“it’s impossible to know the universe of individuals who currently have hearing aids and/or what kind of pent up demand there might be for these devices.”

 

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Marc E. Fitch

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