About 48 million people have hearing loss. And around 22 million employees are exposed to harmful noise levels at work, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Despite the prevalence of hearing loss, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reports that only 11% of those affected have sought treatment.
A lack of hearing benefits may explain the discrepancy. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), financial barriers are the top reason individuals avoid hearing-related treatment. More than 90% of employees receive health benefits through their employer, but fewer than 30% have hearing benefits, reports Employee Benefit News (EBN).
Hearing benefits could fill a void
Employees are largely relying on employer benefits for hearing-related treatment. More than half of employees who received hearing aids said they would have waited longer to address the issue if their employer hadn’t offered hearing benefits.
Even employees who don’t need hearing aids cite the importance of screenings, exams and related benefits. In a survey cited by SHRM, nearly 95% of employees said hearing benefits are at least somewhat important. More than 50% said they are important or very important.
Hearing loss isn’t just impacting employees in noisy environments such as construction and manufacturing. Because of the changing nature of work and home life, many office employees are experiencing auditory fatigue. Auditory fatigue describes ear discomfort or desensitization due to persistent noise exposure.
Employees often wear headphones to answer phone calls, conduct online meetings, block office noise or listen to background music. Many then go home and wear earbuds to stream shows, listen to music and play online games.
This increased auditory engagement at work and at home is likely the reason employees are complaining of listening fatigue. In a survey by the hearing benefits platform Tuned, 74% of employees said they have experienced listening fatigue. And more than 60% said they needed to take breaks at work because of auditory fatigue.
Types of hearing benefits
Though hearing benefits aren’t widespread, they are essential. Hearing loss impacts employees’ social and emotional health. It affects workplace productivity and inclusivity. And individuals with hearing loss often earn less, are unemployed or underemployed at higher rates, and face greater challenges to career development, according to the Hearing Health Foundation.
Hearing benefits may provide solutions for individual employees and set your health plan apart from competitors. Following are common examples of hearing benefits:
- Hearing exams
- Hearing aids
- Specialized instruments and adaptations
Hearing exams can help medical providers assess an employee’s needs. EBN reports on three common screenings:
- Questionnaires: Employees provide answers on topics such as how often they ask others to repeat themselves, if they find it difficult to hear in loud environments, whether they can hear whispers, and if they experience pain or ringing in the ears.
- Pure tone tests: This type of exam measures an individual’s ability to hear beeps at different volumes and frequencies.
- Digits-in-noise tests: This captures how well a person hears numbers when there is background noise.
These screenings provide a base level of data and inform next steps. And that doesn’t just mean treatment. Annual or semiannual exams can help individuals preserve their hearing and catch hearing damage early, before it becomes more severe.
There are many different types of hearing aids. But price is often a barrier. An average pair costs between $2,000 and $7,000, according to GoodRx Health.
Hearing benefits can increase access and affordability. For example, you might cover hearing aids as you do frames and lenses for eyeglasses, by paying a set dollar amount or a percentage of the full cost. You can also partner with providers to reduce costs. In addition, compensation can be structured so audiologists are paid for meeting with and advising plan members, not for selling hearing aids or other products.
Specialized instruments and adaptations
Not all hearing benefits are related to provider settings. You may opt to perform a workplace audit to enhance the auditory environment for everyone. Options include specialized headphones and apps that can help:
- Reduce or avoid high volumes
- Promote behaviors that reduce the risk of hearing loss
- Decrease stress related to conditions like tinnitus
In addition, vocal ranges and frequencies can be adjusted on phone and computer settings. This may allow users to lower the overall volume and reduce hearing fatigue.
Examining your options
For more information on hearing benefits, talk with your insurance broker or benefits adviser. They can help you examine benefit offerings and costs. In addition, they can review vendor options and compensation structures.