Hard-of-hearing employees would be more productive if employers chose health plans that included coverage for hearing aids. Currently, most health insurance companies offer plans with at least some coverage for hearing aids. However, many employers who offer group benefit plans to their employees are not choosing these plans. Employers would find including this benefit would reduce time wasted on redundant communication methods and increase moral among their hard-of-hearing employees. Not only would it increase productivity, it should be among accommodations required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hearing aids are usually more helpful to the Hard-of-hearing in professional settings than the minimum accommodations required by the law.
I am Hard-of-hearing and my hearing loss is moderate to severe. For 8 years, I worked for Philips Medical Systems at their office in Bothell, Washington. For the last two of those years, I did not have working hearing aids. The hearing aids that I had bought seven years previous, had finally broken down. The life span of hearing aids is typically 5 years, and I desperately needed new ones. Unfortunately, I did not have the money to buy new hearing aids, due to the recession at the time. My now ex-husband had lost his job and I had been laid-off, but re-hired in another position at Philips.
Every day was a challenge, and I often ran into communication issues with my coworkers. Most were polite, but sometimes puzzled, when I would ask them to repeat themselves. A few were annoyed when asked, and one coworker blatantly refused to repeat herself to me, even after I explained that I was hard-of-hearing. I worked in a very fast paced, people oriented position that I enjoyed, but it was quickly becoming very stressful to function without hearing aids. I worked extremely hard to be as productive as I had been when I had working hearing aids, but it was now difficult to maintain the same level of performance.
I contacted my insurance company, a group benefit plan provided by my employer, to inquire if they covered any hearing aid costs. The insurance representative told me that they did not offer coverage for hearing aids on our plan. When I pressed for the reason why, she admitted my employer had not chosen a plan that included hearing aid coverage. She also told me that they did have plans available that included coverage for hearing aids that my employer could have chosen. I was very disappointed; I had hoped that they at least offered some coverage. I could have functioned in my role more efficiently if I could have obtained at least one hearing aid.
My next call was to my employer’s Human Resources department. I explained my situation and told my representative how much working hearing aids would help me perform my job. I asked him if Human Resources could do anything to help me get a new hearing aid or pair of hearing aids. He offered me a flexible spending account for medical expenses, but I...