Hearing aid usage rates have climbed significantly over the past several years, from 15% to 18.5%. Although the overall usage rate is still pitifully low — less than 20% — this uptick is notable and welcome. So why are usage rates still lagging in the Black and Hispanic American communities?
Black Americans Are More Likely to Get Tested.
Data from recent studies suggest that Black Americans are much more likely to talk about hearing loss and get tested for it than their white counterparts. There is less of a stigma attached to admitting hearing loss for older Black Americans. In other words, the Black community is a good cultural fit for addressing hearing loss. Their lower usage rates are imbedded in the systemic imbalances in wealth and income that continue to plague American society.
Although prices have come down in recent years, hearing aids are still quite expensive, especially for older Americans who are on fixed incomes. This is compounded by Medicare’s schizophrenic regard for hearing health. Medicare has never fully accepted that hearing loss is of critical importance to the physical and psychological health of older Americans. As a result, the costs of hearing aids are only nominally covered, leaving behind Black Americans and others who rely heavily on Medicare and Medicaid for all of the healthcare needs.
Hispanic Americans Lack Healthcare Access.
For Hispanic Americans, the issue is access to healthcare. Overcoming this disparity in access will require outreach, in both English and in Spanish, with programs such as Oyendo Bien (Hearing Well) and the Hispanic Hearing Healthcare Access Program.
Overall, It’s A National Issue.
Prioritizing hearing healthcare for older Black and Hispanic Americans is a national issue. It will require, firstly, an acknowledgement of the problem, and, secondly, a willingness to advocate and legislate toward greater parity in care. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
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SGD is a San Francisco Bay Area advertising, marketing and branding agency specializing in the senior and boomer markets. We’ve successfully positioned, branded and rebranded senior-oriented companies, weaving traditional and online tactics to create compelling stories that drive response.
About the Author Duff Reiter is a Partner at SGD Advertising.