A few years ago I lost a very good friend.

This friend had been, it seems, everywhere with me.

This friend was with me when my wife said, “I do,” and was with me to hear my first born cry moments after she was born.

Bruce Wallace

This friend went with me to hear the crack of the bat as Albert Pujols hammered home runs.

My friend heard some pretty great concerts with me – from Willie Nelson and his guitar to YoYo Ma and his cello. Amazing music from a New Orleans bar to a Vienna concert hall.

All of the really important moments in life – my friend was there with me.

But I didn’t think about him that much…..until he was gone.

Of course, my “friend” I am referring to is…..my hearing. Unless you have had the frustration of hearing loss, you have absolutely no idea, unless you walk around with cotton in your ears, what it is like to lose your hearing.

I finally relented a little over a year ago and purchased hearing aids….and it changed my life for the better. Amazingly better.

Sure, I felt very self-conscious wearing hearing aids – for about the first two weeks. But when I realized few people knew I was wearing them, that self-conscious feeling went away. Quickly. In fact, after about the first week I wore hearing aids, I could care less what others thought – I was happier to hear school board members talk at meetings (instead of mumbling) and I was so much happier to not have to guess at what co-workers, customers, my wife and anyone else had to say. There are only so many times you want to say, “huh?” in a given 24-hour period.

But while I am fortunate enough to be capable of affording hearing aids, millions of others are not.

I have never understood why insurance companies would not provide the ability to get a hearing test and, if necessary, purchase hearing aids. A few do – very few.

I see it no different than getting insurance to have your eyes examined annually, or dental insurance. Three states agree with me – Arkansas, Vermont and Wisconsin require health insurers to provide insurance for hearing tests and hearing aids for everyone. As well, 20 states, including Missouri, require infant/children hearing tests and insurance for hearing aids from health insurers.

It is a topic to be considered when re-writing Obama Care. Why not require insurance companies to provide the option for customers to purchase hearing aids?

It seems as though the Federal Drug Administration thinks, in part, that might be a good idea.

The FDA is making moves to help the hearing impaired to have easier access to hearing aids.

As announced late last year, the FDA is moving to allow consumers 18 and older to waive the medical exam they need to get in order to purchase hearing aids.

Second, to ease the cost burden, the FDA is looking to create over-the-counter hearing aids, which would allow lower cost for consumers.

The Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hearing is affected by this potential change as they serve more than 600,000 Missourians with hearing loss. Ninety percent of those have partial hearing loss, but don’t use sign language to communicate.

“Because there are various types of hearing losses, and different variations of hearing loss, there are many who would benefit,” said the Commission’s Opeoluwa Sotonwa. “The most important thing we should keep in mind is making sure there’s access to benefits to anybody who has hearing loss and can’t afford hearing aids.”

Currently the average hearing aid costs around $2,000 each, which becomes pretty pricey when not covered by insurance.

Having adequate hearing is more than simply a “convenience” and more insurance companies should provide coverage for a need that will make workers more productive, families communicate better and its users have safer, healthier lives.

If you are having to deal with hearing loss, I understand your frustration. There are a number of reputable audiology specialists in Columbia who can help you. Believe me, you won’t realize how much you have been missing.

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