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Our Concerns about United Health Care's Secure Horizons AARP Hearing Aid program

On November 9, 2012 United Health care announced a new program that provides hearing aids to their members. While at first this may seem like a great benefit to the consumer, further investigation reveals many flaws. Consumers are free to choose where they do business, however it is our goal to educate the consumer before they make a bad choice.

Please keep in mind that Consumer Reports, July 2009 indicated that the most satisfied customers are people who purchased their hearing aids from audiologists associated with ENT physicians.

UHC fails to recognize the importance of the audiology service in the hearing aid fitting, adjustment and maintenance process. UHC’s current program has the consumer obtain a hearing test online. UHC will then send the “preprogrammed” hearing aid to you in the mail. There is NO audiologist to help orient you to the hearing aid. There is NO audiologist to program your hearing aid if you need any adjustments. There is NO audiologist to make physical changes to the earmold if needed. There is NO audiologist to test you to make sure the fit is appropriate. There is NO audiologist to help you care for the aid if you have a problem. So, as you can see they are providing you the hearing aid without any service. When purchasing a hearing through our clinic all of these services are included in the price of the hearing aid. Our service is NO CHARGE for lifetime.

The following information is for you to consider regarding actions taken since UHC’s announcement of hearing aid benefits.

The announcement by United Healthcare to offer an online hearing device benefit for hearing healthcare has prompted growing concerns within the health community:

October 12, 2011: The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) released a press release warning consumers against “Do it Yourself Hearing Care.” Read the full release here.

October 26, 2011: The Minnesota Department of Health released a statement stressing the importance of seeing a hearing health practitioner for hearing loss and advising that failure to do so “skirts state and federal legal protections and could result in harm.” Read the full release here 
Note that United Healthcare, UnitedHealth Group, and hi Health Innovations are all based in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

October 26, 2011: An attorney retained by the International Hearing Society (IHS) sent a letter to hi HealthInnovations requesting that the company cease and desist selling hearing aids through its website. Read the full letter here

October 31, 2011: Following multiple discussions, emails and the AAA October Board meeting, the ADA and the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) collaborated on letters sent to Lisa Tseng, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of hi HealthInnovations and Rhonda Medows, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of United Health Group, expressing concerns and requesting additional information regarding the insurer’s plans for an online hearing device benefit. Read the letters to Dr. Tseng and Dr. Medows 

October 31, 2011: The Minnesota Academy of Audiology issued a statement indicating their position on the issue on Internet hearing aid sales. Read more... 

November 2, 2011
: The AAO-HNS writes a letter to UHC expressing concern about the online testing and delivery of services and “cutting” out the otolaryngologist, audiologist, and other health care professionals. Read More.

December, 2011: Important Notice to Ohio Consumers With Hearing Loss, Including Those Who Are Receiving Or Intending To Receive Hearing Aids:

The Ohio Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology (OBSLPA) would like to stress the importance of seeing an audiologist if Ohio consumers have concerns about hearing loss. An audiologist will take a case history, visually inspect, examine, and diagnose for hearing impairments, conduct hearing tests, recommend a hearing aid, or determine if consumers should be seen by a medical specialist. Read More.

January 23, 2012: The Florida Academy of Audiology announces to members that the delivery of a hearing aid purchased through UHC is in violation of state licensure law, as is the programming of the device by an audiologist. Audiologists and patients are encouraged to contact the Florida Office of Attorney General with questions and concerns.

February 9, 2012: The AAA and ADA, in collaboration with the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), the International Hearing Society (IHS), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) issued a joint position statement on Consumer-Administered Hearing Tests and Direct-to-Consumer Hearing Aid Sales. Please click here to view the statement.

March 28, 2012: hi HealthInnovations receives a cease and desist letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA asserts that hi HealthInnovations is in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which requires marketing clearance or approval of devices by the FDA. The test is considered a device under the Act as its intended use is diagnostic in nature. The standards set forward in the Act are crafted to ensure patient safety as well as the efficacy of devices. The FDA has deemed hi HealthInnovations’ lack of adherence as a violation. Click here to read the letter

May 4, 2012: The American Academy of Audiology sends a letter to the FDA commending their action calling for hi HealthInnovations/UHC to discontinue the use of the online hearing aid purchase. Click here to view the letter.

May 4, 2012: The American Academy of Audiology sends a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The letter asserts that United Healthcare/hi HealthInnovations (UHC/HHI) Medicare Advantage hearing aid benefit effectively denies to Medicare Advantage beneficiaries a diagnostic service performed by a qualified health professional under Part B that is currently available to Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries, thereby creating an inequitable level of service problem that necessitates CMS review. Click here to view the letter

May 7, 2012: The Texas Academy of Audiology sends notice to audiologists that patients with complaints about hearing devices purchased through UHC/hi HealthInnovations or any other internet site, should lodge them with the State Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology:
Complaints Management and Investigative Section
P.O. Box 141369
Austin, Texas 78714-1369
OR call 1-800-942-5540 to request the appropriate form or obtain more information.
This number is for complaints only.
A complaint form and instructions are available here.

May 15, 2012: The Academy, in collaboration with the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), the International Hearing Society (IHS), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), sends a letter to every state department of health in the country asking them to advise consumers who suspect that they have hearing loss to seek a comprehensive hearing evaluation by a licensed hearing healthcare professional prior to purchasing hearing aids overa??thea??counter or through the Internet. Click here to view the letterClick here to view the joint press release 

May 29, 2012: Academy receives response to May 4th letter from CMS stating their intent to monitor the UHC/HHI program and has asked HHI to inform CMS in the event they plan to repost the online test for additional review. Click here tothank you view the letter

August 17, 2012: The Academy, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) send a message to their members outlining steps that audiologists might consider in assisting in the paradigm shift with regard to the direct-to-consumer hearing aid model. Click here to view the message.

August 20, 2012: Academy releases Quick Reference Guide For Audiologists in the Direct-to-Consumer Hearing Aid Model - Read More

August 17, 2012: The Texas State Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and the Texas State Committee of Examiners in the Fitting and Dispensing of Hearing Instruments send a letter to UHC/hi HealthInnovations asking them to "immediately CEASE and DESIST from continuing your current business practices as they relate to the fitting and dispensing of hearing instruments in the State of Texas until such time as you and your company can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Board your ability and intent to comply with our laws." Click here to view the letter. 

September 7, 2012: The Academy sends a letter to the FDA outlining concerns and requesting action regarding the Web site www.thegoodear.com, which offers an online hearing test as well as a sound “therapy” application, which purports to restore hearing loss. View the Academy’s comments here.

December 7, 2012: The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing releases a position paper  "strongly opposing any delivery model that takes a device-centered rather than person-centered approach. Read More