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January 7, 2005

US Medicare may pay for implant to help hearing

From: Reuters AlertNet, UK - Jan 7, 2005

Source: Reuters

WASHINGTON, Jan 7 (Reuters) - More U.S. Medicare beneficiaries with severe hearing loss could soon receive implantable devices that help recreate sound, government officials said in a proposal on Friday.

Medicare, the nation's insurance program for the elderly, currently pays for the device, called a cochlear implant, in patients with the most severe hearing loss associated with damaged or destroyed ear parts.

Hearing loss is determined by a series of sound recognition tests, and patients currently covered must have a score of 30 or less.

Under the proposed plan, elderly patients with milder loss -- a score of 40 or less -- would also be covered. Others, with a score between 41 and 60, would be covered if they participated in a clinical trial.

While hearing aids amplify sound, cochlear implants are surgically implanted under the skin and use electrodes placed inside the ear to send sound messages to the brain.

"This is a welcome change for many beneficiaries who did not previously qualify for Medicare coverage of a cochlear implant," said Mark McClellan, head of the agency that runs Medicare.

More than 25 million Americans have hearing loss, including one out of four people older than 65, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Medicare coverage of a device can greatly boost its sales and lead many private insurers to follow suit. About 13,000 adults had a cochlear implant in 2002, according to government statistics.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will accept public comments about the proposed coverage for 30 days, then make its final decision two months later.

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