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Program Offers Free Hearing Aids for Community Service

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Ann Morrison first noticed a change in her hearing three years ago.

The 73-year-old who lives in Goshen, Ky., said she began missing parts of important conversations, turning up the television volume and growing increasingly frustrated.

"You get to the point where you think, 'What's the use? I'm just going to sit in my room and read a book,' because you know you're not going to be able to fully participate and it's really hurtful," she said.

The Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing report nearly 700,000 Kentuckians have a hearing loss.

And for people like Morrison, who live on fixed incomes, buying hearing aids is a financial burden. While Medicare covers diagnostic hearing and balance exams when ordered by a health care provider to assess medical treatment, the program doesn't cover hearing exams, hearing aids, or exams for fitting hearing aids.

"It's amazing to me what Medicare covers and what they don't," she said. "I mean, Medicare will cover...a penile implant, but they won't cover a hearing aid. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

Now, a local program wants to help retirees in Kentucky get the hearing aids they need through volunteering.

Heuser Hearing Institute has launched the Listen Up! Project in partnership with Delta Dental of Kentucky.

The program will provide hearing aids to participants in exchange for them or a family member volunteering 200 hours at a local non-profit.

Brett Bachmann, chief executive officer at HHI, said he hopes the program will also get more people involved in the community.

"My objective is to improve everybody's quality of life," he said.

To qualify for the program participants must have already retired, be unable to afford hearing aids, and be active in the community.

The institute expects to provide about a dozen people with hearing aids this year through the program. The institute will continue to service the hearings aids after the 200 hours of community service is complete as long as participants volunteer in the community.

Morrison will be the second recipient. Her niece, Jillian, is volunteering at Gilda's Club Louisville on her behalf.

A pair of hearing aids usually costs between $3,000 and $7,000, according to Virginia Moore, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

"What we've been trying to push here at the Commission is some type of legislation that would then encourage or enforce hearing aids to be purchased through insurance companies," she said.

And the initial purchase is just the beginning, says Anita Dowd, executive staff adviser at KCDHH. Dowd is also deaf and wears hearing aids.

"You have to have change of batteries constantly," Dowd said. "There is follow up, ear molds can have problems or shrink. The tubing that goes to and from the hearing aid to the ear mold could dry and crack and then you hear this whistling "E" that can come out of your hearing aid when it doesn't exactly fit inside the ear."

Dowd said hearing loss and deafness may be thought of as an invisible disease by health insurers, which may be why people may not receive much coverage for hearing exams and hearing aids.

"You can't see when somebody can't hear, it's not written on them 'I can't hear you,'" Dowd said.

As for Morrison, she said the hearing aids will bring back a sense of normalcy to her life. She will be able to better communicate with family friends and remain socially active.

“I’m looking forward to being able to participate in conversations without saying, 'Excuse me what did you say? I didn’t hear that. Would you mind repeating?'” Morrison said.

Morrison will be fitted for hearing aids next week.

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