Objectives: Of the several barriers associated with uptake and adherence to hearing services, cost is the most commonly identified barrier in Canada. This study evaluated health insurance plans for hearing care coverage within Alberta, Canada, and subsequent out-of-pocket expenses that would result if an individual chose to pursue treatment.
Methods: An investigation of eight companies that provide supplementary health coverage in Alberta was conducted. Categories of health service coverage included hearing, vision, speech-language pathology (S-LP), physical therapy related (PT-R; including massage therapy and chiropractic therapy) and alternative medicine related (AM-R; including osteopathy, acupuncture and naturopathy). All coverage amounts were corrected to a four-year term for comparison purposes.
Results: For a four-year term, the coverage amounts for hearing services were CAD 300–750; for vision services were CAD 0–900; for S-LP services were CAD 0–2,400; for PT-R services were CAD 1,400–10,200; and for AM-R services were CAD 0–10,200 per four-year term. The expected out-of-pocket expense for vision ranged from CAD 0 to CAD 2,766, whereas for hearing, it ranged from CAD 250 to CAD 11,700.
Conclusion: A considerable range and discrepancy were reported between hearing care and most paramedical services. In addition, the coverage amounts for hearing care were inconsistent with treatment costs, resulting in considerable out-of-pocket expenses for most consumers. The potential implications of such cost-related barriers on public health are an important consideration as our understanding of the impact of untreated hearing impairment continues to increase.
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