Why This Broker Cares About Hearing Benefits

One of the most satisfying aspects of being a benefits broker is bringing new and valuable benefits to clients, but one of the most frustrating aspects is recognizing a coverage gap and seeing it remain consistently unsolved. An employee of one of my customers recently came to me so desperate and upset that he was literally in tears. He works as a teacher at a tech school and needs hearing aids, but his plan didn’t offer hearing benefits. After his emotional plea, and with the help of the insurance carrier, we were able to retroactively add a rider to offset a dollar amount toward a hearing aid. But, sadly, he still could not afford to purchase what he needed to hear efficiently. The rider just wasn’t enough coverage. He had to continue to do his job, but without the help he needed he struggled and felt frustrated every day—and I’m sure his students did, too.

I couldn’t believe that treatment for something essential to everyday life was so hard to come by and to afford. I started to educate myself on the category and the options available, and I have since learned just how prevalent hearing loss is among people of all ages. I know that many other brokers have been faced with similar situations.

The Size of the Gap
Hearing loss impacts the lives of millions of Americans, including more than half (51 percent) of all US adults.1 While it might seem like an easy thing to address, hearing healthcare is not nearly as familiar to both payors and their members as treatment for vision and dental problems.

I have worked in healthcare benefits for more than 25 years and hearing benefits have never reached the level of vision or dental benefits in terms of widespread coverage. I have seen discounts and payments through FSAs, but comprehensive coverage is nearly impossible to find. In fact, according to a recent survey,2 only 11 percent of U.S. employees indicate their employer offers hearing benefits even though there are multiple solutions in partnership with third-party hearing benefit providers—similar to those in the vision and dental spaces—that can easily and affordably provide access.

Many in the benefits community may share the common misconception that hearing loss primarily impacts an older population versus working age adults. I originally believed this, too, probably because hearing loss is not commonly discussed among younger people and is still met with stigma. The reality, however, is that younger generations are at a higher risk for hearing loss because of their prevalent use of headphones. In fact, hearing loss among Gen Z is already at 17 percent.3 This population is expected to account for 27 percent of the workforce by 2025, so why are employers not providing necessary healthcare for a problem that’s becoming an increasing issue among their employees?

Alignment With Employer Priorities
One reason it is so surprising to me that hearing healthcare isn’t a more standard part of benefits offerings is that it aligns so closely with many top employer priorities.

Across the healthcare industry, I continue to see a major emphasis on mental health and, to me, the connection between hearing and mental health is an obvious one. Hearing is a critical element in communication and connection, but when that ability to communicate with others is jeopardized people tend to isolate and disengage which can lead to feelings of loneliness. Those feelings can intensify as hearing declines, which can lead to additional serious health problems including depression, dementia and more.4 Hearing is vital to our day-to-day social interactions in and out of the office, and it’s shocking that so many people don’t have access to coverage that safeguards both hearing and mental health.

Employee productivity is key to the success of any company, and the effects of untreated hearing loss are felt by both the employee and employer. While hearing loss may seem like “just a communication barrier,” it can quickly start to hinder almost every aspect of our lives—especially workplace productivity. Whether they struggle to understand colleagues or participate less in meetings, employees with untreated hearing loss are often unable to perform to the best of their abilities because their workplace doesn’t provide them with the coverage needed to make treatment accessible. Providing hearing benefits is a simple, affordable way to not only demonstrate a commitment to employee wellness and inclusion, but also preserve and advance company productivity.

Most Surprising Fact—A Low-Cost Offering
Despite all these reasons to offer hearing benefits, it still is not common practice. I assumed the barrier was cost, but I couldn’t have been more off-target. Including hearing healthcare benefits in a coverage plan is remarkably affordable for employers, and dramatically increases access for those who are in need of hearing healthcare most. High-quality, entry level hearing healthcare programs through the market leader TruHearing start as low as $.05 PMPM, which is a fraction of the price of typical vision and dental plans. Hearing benefits can even be designed as voluntary and at no cost to an employer. Many medical carriers also offer discount programs and riders to purchase along with their group medical policies, depending on the employer size, but those can often still be expensive for both the member and the payor when not combined with the predictable and discounted hearing aid pricing available in partnership with a hearing benefits provider. Even with all these different options, those with hearing loss continue to be left behind and functionally uninsured.

So, what can brokers do?

If you are motivated like I was to do your part to shrink the hearing health coverage gap and to best serve your clients’ business needs, look at your clients’ benefits packages and see if hearing aids are covered in their health plans. Depending on their funding platform, determine if they are good candidates for a fully insured or voluntary hearing benefit. A hearing benefit provider can help provide benefit design and discuss cost options, making it easy to navigate implementation.

Even for plans where hearing is not covered, it can be valuable to let employers know that employees can use their HSA or FSA dollars to bring down the out-of-pocket cost of audiology visits and hearing aids.

Your Voice Makes a Difference
Hearing loss impacts a staggering amount of people, and it isn’t given the attention of other healthcare issues. As your customers continue to look for ways to improve employee wellness without breaking the bank, remind them that hearing benefits offer a huge win for a small cost. Educating clients about hearing benefits can help strengthen your relationship with them by introducing a new and innovative solution that fills a gap in benefit offerings and is life-changing to employees who need them.

The more brokers ask about hearing benefits, the more health plans will see the need to standardly add these essential benefits to all market segment policies. It’s time to make hearing healthcare commonplace and keep more employees from falling through the cracks.


  1. https://www.asha.org/news/2021/new-poll-of-us-adults-reveals-widespread-inaction-on-hearing-loss.
  2. TruHearing’s 2024 survey included 524 U.S. full- and part-time employees ages 25-64, and 243 people within TruHearing’s consumer database. Answers were segmented by those who do not have hearing loss; those who suspect hearing loss but have not sought treatment; those with confirmed hearing loss but do not wear hearing aids; and those who currently wear hearing aids.
  3. https://americanhearing.us/hearing-loss-among-millennials-gen-z.
  4. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/09/12/760231279/untreated-hearing-loss-linked-to-loneliness-and-isolation-for-seniors.

Michelle Ruff is vice president of Corporate Benefits at NFP. She is a direct sales broker working out of NFP’s Pittsburgh, PA, office with more than 25 years of experience in the employee benefits field.

She is an advisor and manager of employee insurance benefits (medical, dental, disability, life, vision, voluntary, etc.) for employer groups of all sizes. In her role, Ruff builds client relationships with a personal, heartfelt touch. She has developed and fostered long term business partnerships by paying attention to clients’ needs and advocating for customized benefits solutions.

Ruff capitalizes on her relationships with regional and national insurance carriers to offer her clients the most advantageous and cost-effective benefit packages possible. Her book of business includes employers from all industries, ranging from nonprofits, advertising agencies, to manufacturers and government authorities.

Ruff can be reached at NFP, 115 VIP Drive, Suite 300, Wexford, PA 15090.