Medical experts have long argued that poor oral hygiene and neglected vision care can undermine overall physical health. The same thinking is now being applied to hearing loss, which is reportedly on the rise and taking a toll on employee productivity, emphasizing a need for more advisers and their clients to consider the inclusion of hearing and vision health with wellness programming.
Advisers “can make sure their clients are aware that healthy senses are often missing from traditional wellness strategies,” says Brad Volkmer, president and CEO of EPIC Hearing Healthcare, “and they can bring solutions to help clients integrate areas like hearing and vision health into their wellness offerings.”
As many as 30% of working Americans suspect they have hearing loss, but have not sought treatment and admit it has affected their work performance, according to a 2013 EPIC Hearing Healthcare survey of 1,500 U.S. employees.
This seems to be one area that worksite health and wellness has overlooked. A 2015 EPIC survey of 518 benefits professionals, for example, found that only 8% of employers integrate hearing health into their wellness programs. Most of those respondents (86%) said they were willing to take action if they knew that untreated hearing loss was hurting employee job performance.
As many as one-fifth of Americans 12 years or older have hearing loss so severe that it may make communication difficult, according to a Johns Hopkins study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers estimate that 30 million Americans, or 12.7% of the population, have hearing loss in both ears, and about 48 million, or 20.3%, have hearing loss in at least one ear. What’s surprising is that 65% of people with hearing loss are actually younger than age 65, notes the Better Hearing Institute.
“[Advisers] can make sure their clients are aware that healthy senses are often missing from traditional wellness strategies.”
EPIC offers a hearing-health wellness program called “Listen Hear! Live Well” that can be integrated into an employer’s existing wellness effort or offered on a stand-alone basis. Among the company’s suggested tips for producers when talking with employer clients about the importance of treating hearing loss and maintaining healthy senses:
- Integrate hearing, vision and oral health into health education. The hope is that through these efforts, employers can help erase any stigma associated with hearing loss and quell employee fears about being poorly perceived by their employer. Content for company wellness newsletters, brochures, videos, presentations, advice hotlines, etc., is available free of charge through some programs.
- Check healthy senses through screenings. This can be done at employee health fairs and events with the help of local audiologists, optometrists and dentists who may be willing to offer complimentary screenings and deliver educational presentations.
- Make incentives accessible. Employers can offer incentives and discounts to employees who complete vision and hearing exams in order to promote preventive care. For example, those who participate in four educational activities in EPIC’s Listen Hear! program can earn a discount on hearing treatments.
- Minimize financial barriers to care. Employers can elect to cover healthy senses through ancillary benefits and the use of various savings vehicles to help ease out-of-pocket expenses. An HSA or FSA can be used to help pay for hearing aids, eyeglasses or contact lenses. Without such assistance, these costs can be staggering. Hearing aids, for example, cost on average about $1,500, but can be as high as $3,000 to $5,000, according to the National Institutes of Health. Also, more than one-third of people surveyed in 2014 by Wakefield Research on behalf of National Vision, Inc. said did not see their eye doctor that year because they couldn’t afford the visit.