How Washington can tackle hearing loss related to diabetes

How Washington can tackle hearing loss related to diabetes
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Dr. Ronny Jackson has been named head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He has no experience in hospital management but hopefully a system led by a physician can focus attention on chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

There are 29.1 million Americans who are currently diagnosed with diabetes, of these half have a significant hearing loss statistically. In the veteran’s population, diabetes is three times more prevalent than in the general population. Around 25 percent of those who receive care at the VA are diagnosed with this chronic disease.


Although those who work with diabetes and hearing loss may know the link, it is not widely known in the medical community. Hearing loss is not screened enough by primary physicians. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended annual checks with the dentists, podiatrist and ophthalmologist for many years but only added this year a hearing exam by an audiologist as part of the follow-up recommendations. But there also needs to be recognition from The American Diabetes Association as well.


In the medical community, we are increasing our outreach and education when it comes to diabetes as it costs our country, an estimated at $327 billion, $237 billion due to increased medical costs. The VA provides benefits to 1.45 million vets who have diabetes, which is 6 percent of those diagnosed with diabetes in the United States.

We need to support legislation to make the public aware of the link between diabetes and hearing loss.

There are Senate and House bills, S.2575 sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDespite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill Overnight Defense: Defense bill moving forward despite Trump veto threat over tech fight | Government funding bill hits snag | Top general talks Afghanistan, Pentagon budget Katie Porter in heated exchange with Mnuchin: 'You're play-acting to be a lawyer' MORE (D-Mass.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMcConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return Rand Paul says Fauci owes parents and students an apology over pandemic measures Grassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) and HR 2276 sponsored by Rep. Tom RiceHugh (Tom) Thompson RiceGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Bustos tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-S.C.). These bipartisan bills named Audiology Patient Choice Act would ensure seniors and those with disabilities on Medicare have direct access to hearing and balance health care services from licensed audiologists.

The passage of these bills would help people get treatment faster and more affordably. This would also decrease the overall burden on insurance costs as well by taking out unnecessary referrals.

Currently, there is an extra layer of barriers because a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy or nurse practitioner have to refer a patient for a medical diagnosis, such as diabetes. The VA system doesn’t require a referral. Of all reported health issues, hearing loss is in the top four reported from military service members and veterans.

If audiologists had to wait to get referrals within the VA system, the wait time to have hearing exams and help would double. Why wouldn’t we want the same pathway to direct care in the public sector? These bills would give people direct access to hearing healthcare.

Most endocrinologists and primary care physicians are unaware of the effects of decreased hearing with diabetes. I recently have signed on as a state cohort for Arizona and topic speaker with The Audiology Project headed by Kathy Dowd, AuD. Dowd works tirelessly on promoting hearing health.

Along with my own work as a doctor of Audiology, with those with hearing loss these past 28 years, I now have easier access to years of work and research connecting diabetes and the connection to hearing loss while working with other disciplines such as podiatry, dental, vision and neurology.

I recently diagnosed a sensorineural hearing loss in a 13-year-old boy who just found out he had Type 1 Diabetes. His blood sugar count was 573. He only came to have his hearing checked by chance because I knew his mother and let her know about the connection of hearing loss and diabetes.

Audiologists are first and foremost the experts in hearing protection, diagnosis and rehabilitation.

The barrier to medical care must be lifted with the passage of these bills, but also every person who has diabetes should have their hearing monitored annually to see if there is a progressive hearing loss. Physicians recommend vision, podiatry, dental and risk of fall, it is time that hearing loss has the same respect.

Dr. Judy Huch, an Audiologist is a private practice owner, community advocate, commissioner for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for the State of Arizona and a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.