Tricare Policy Update Expands Hearing Assistance

AOI

By Debbie Gregory.

Up until recently, Tricare did not cover hearing aids for retirees, Tricare for Life and Tricare Reserve Select users. But a recent policy change reclassifies a certain type of bone-implanted hearing aid — Auditory Osseointegrated Implant (AOI) Devices — as a “prosthetic,” opening up coverage of the implant to all Tricare beneficiaries.

With AOI implant devices, a tiny titanium vibrator is inserted in the skull behind the ear. A microphone and hearing aid components form the rest of the package. Incoming sounds cause the implanted portion to vibrate. These vibrations are transmitted to the inner ear via bone conduction and produce sound sensations.

The decision to expand coverage was made as part of a routine policy review and is retroactive to June 30, 2016.

The implants are used to treat conductive and mixed hearing loss or singled-sided deafness, according to the association. Cochlear implants, another implantable type of aid, are used to treat those with non-functioning cochlea or those who have bilateral severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear implants are currently covered by Tricare for all types of beneficiaries.

The change for AOI devices impacts all Tricare users, including Tricare for Life users.

The new policy does create parameters for what kind of hearing loss qualifies for coverage.

“AOI devices … are covered as a prosthetic device when necessary due to significant conditions resulting from trauma, congenital anomalies, or disease,” it states.

That means that retirees whose hearing loss can be blamed on other causes that are not trauma, disease or a birth defect don’t qualify for coverage.

Non-implantable devices, such as the BAHA Softband, which gives hearing help to children who are too young for the AOI implant, are still excluded from coverage, according to the policy.

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