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Tax Aid For Hearing Aids? Maybe

Hearing loss is all too common.

Some 35 million people have trouble hearing. After high blood pressure and arthritis, it's third on the list of chronic health issues for seniors.

Yet traditional Medicare coverage doesn't include the cost of hearing aids, and most private health plans follow suit. That leaves it to many people to scrape up the money on their own.

That's no small task, since hearing aids can cost a few thousand dollars and generally have to be replaced every four to six years.

Legislators in both houses of Congress over the past decade have repeatedly proposed a tax credit that could provide at least a modicum of financial help.

Bipartisan bills are pending again in both the House and Senate, but they're not moving ahead anytime soon. "We continue to gain support of the bill, but there has been no legislative activity," says Ingrida Lusis, director of federal and political advocacy at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Both bills have been referred to committee, but no action has been taken.

The House bill would provide a tax credit of up to $500 per hearing aid every five years to people age 55 or older or to families who bought one for a dependent. People with incomes over $200,000 would be ineligible for the tax credit. It has been estimated to cost about $300 million.

The Senate bill provides for a similar tax credit but with no restriction on age or income.

One hearing aid user, Kathy Borzell, 62, of Sapphire, N.C., estimates she's spent $25,000 out of pocket over the past 20 years buying hearing aids for both ears.

Although $500 may only be a fraction of the cost most people spend on hearing aids, advocates say it would let policymakers send a message to those needing hearing aids that "We hear you."

Copyright 2012 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/.

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