About Me: Getting My New “Ears”

I previously blogged about my recent discovery of my hearing loss and decision to get hearing aids despite being in my mid-40s. But while I spoke about the events leading up to that decision and the results of my testing, I didn’t go into much detail about what it has taken to obtain my life-changing devices.

Firstly, immediately upon concluding the tests and seeing that my hearing could benefit from getting hearing aids, the doctor’s office checked with my health insurance provider for coverage while I was still sitting there. Sadly, for whatever reason, my insurance plan does not cover such devices at all. I pay $800/month through my employer for my health insurance but hearing aids aren’t covered. Go figure. Because of this gap in my coverage, the only option I have is to purchase the devices directly. True, I do have the option to not buy them at all and continue dealing with the status quo but if that were a real option for me then I wouldn’t have gone to the appointment to begin with so I don’t consider this a valid option.

Secondly, thanks to my insurance’s choice to not cover such necessary devices, not only would I have to purchase the devices 100% out of pocket, the devices would have to be paid in full before they could be delivered. And it turns out that hearing aids are NOT cheap. Sure, you might see ads on television offering rechargeable hearing aids for under $200 a pair but those don’t offer the features I need for both my hearing loss and tinnitus. I need something a bit more customizable which means that the devices I require cost between $3500-$5000 per pair.

There are other devices out there that can cost significantly more but still $5000 isn’t exactly chump change for the average American like me. 

Luckily, Doctor Harris at the Callier Center in Dallas offered some free advice to help save me money while still allowing me to get the devices of my choice. As it turns out, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has a program called Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). This VR program offered by the TWC helps employed individuals like myself secure hearing aids to help us stay employed. All anyone needs to do is call their local TWC office and say they would like to apply for the VR program, so I did. I figured that even though I had the money to pay for my devices that if the TWC could get me the devices for a reduced price, or even for free, then it was certainly worth the ask.

A quick call to my local TWC office started the process. I talked with two people, the lady who answered the phone and then a gentleman who controlled the VR application process. Over the course of the several minutes long call, I scheduled an appointment with the TWC rep to come in and formally start the process but also set some expectations given my salary as an IT consultant. The TWC rep was very upfront that with our household income that it was very unlikely that I would qualify to have the TWC pay for any portion of my hearing aids. However, while the TWC would not pay for me to hear better, it was possible, and likely, that I would be able to purchase my desired hearing aids through the TWC at a significantly reduced rate that the TWC had negotiated with the manufacturer. So while it would cost me between $3500 to $5000 to buy them myself, I would be able to save hundred, possibly thousands, of dollars by purchasing them through the TWC’s VR program rate.

But this is where things get funky. In order to purchase my hearing aids through the TWC, I have to jump through all of the fun government red tape and inefficiency.

When I spoke on the phone to the TWC reps on that first call, I made it very clear that I had already been to an audiologist, completed my hearing tests, the use of hearing aids had been recommended to me by the doctor, and that I had even already schedule an appointment (the next day) to select a desired hearing aid device to fit my needs. They scheduled an appointment for me to come in the following week to discuss my case and to officially submit my application. They even sent me several forms to either fill out and bring with me to my appointment or for me to digitally sign in advance, mainly various release forms.

I attended that meeting a few days later and we eventually were able to complete the application process after some unfortunate computer issues the rep experienced during my appointment. At the end of it, I was told I would need to sign a release to have them get my medical records from the Callier Center. Of all the releases they had me sign prior to my appointment, this wasn’t one of them. I can think of a couple possible reasons for it but it does seem odd knowing that I had already been to a group that the TWC rep was familiar with that he did not get that release while he was getting the others.

The upcoming chain of events would go as follows he told me:

  • They will send a request to the Callier Center for the results of my hearing tests and the doctor’s recommendation for which devices I would need.
  • Once the results and recommendation had been provided to the TWC, the TWC would connect me with an ENT that they had contracted with to verify that my hearing loss was not due to any type of illness or injury that would diminish the device’s ability to restore my hearing. One might think that the audiologist at the center that specializes in hearing and communication disorders would have checked that during their extensive testing but the government still wants their person to have a say it seems.
  • After their ENT signs off on my condition, the TWC will give me the negotiated rate that I’ll be 100% responsible for paying.
  • I’ll pay the TWC for the hearing aid devices recommended by the audiologist that they refuse to take her word for on my need for the devices. So they’re willing to let me buy what my doctor says I need but not willing to trust my doctor’s assessment of my need for them…
  • The TWC will put the order for the devices in with the manufacturer
  • Within 2 weeks of the order being placed, the manufacturer will send the purchased devices to a doctor for configuration. I’m told that I can have them sent to the doctor at the Callier Center but that hasn’t been confirmed yet.
  • After the devices arrive, the Callier Center will call to schedule me for a “fitting”. When I go in for my “fitting”, the doctor will have everything configured for me and its all but a done deal at that point.
  • There’ll be some follow up appointments but at that point its all academic really.

Sure, it may seem like a number of steps but none of them sound very time consuming. When I left the TWC that Monday afternoon, I was expecting to see things move forward quickly. I mean, the next 3 steps were all pretty basic. 1) The TWC faxes/emails a request for my records to the Callier Center along with my signed release form. 2) The Callier Center, who is waiting on the request, send the requested information back to the TWC. 3) The TWC has their contracted ENT reach out to me to schedule my verification appointment.

Fast forward 72 hours to Thursday. The TWC rep and I had discussed keeping me in the loop via email and text messages but since my meeting ended on Monday the only communication I had from him was regarding my signed release for my medical records. Curious, I sent a polite message to the chat message we had used previously to inquire about the status of my case. I was operating under the assumption that the request for my medical records had been sent to the doctor’s office given that we discussed it Monday and that I had signed the release form around the same time. My question was mainly, “have you gotten a response from the doctor’s office yet?” And I offered to reach out to the Callier Center to see what the holdup was if he hadn’t.

Imagine my surprise when I was informed that the request for records had NOT even been sent to the Callier Center. The TWC rep explained that the request had been given to his assistant but that there was a 7-day window for the request to be sent. What that sounded like to me was that they had a 7-day window to do nothing and that was what they planned on until I spoke up. Miraculously, the request was sent to the doctor’s office within an hour or our text exchange. This also tells me that there was little to no reason for it not to have been sent other than they were not yet obligated to send it. Government inefficiency in full effect.

Upon hearing that the request had been sent, I immediately followed that up by asking that the TWC rep kept me in the loop and to notify me when the records were received or if they had not been received by the end of Tuesday. As Tuesday is almost upon me, I have heard nothing from the TWC rep.

Also, the TWC rep confirmed that they will not schedule me with their ENT until AFTER they get the medical records from my doctor. This makes me wonder how many days after they get the records until the ENT appointment will be set. If they have a week to send a request for information, will they take the same week before sending an email to the ENT to request an appointment? 

If it wasn’t for the fact that this program could represent significant savings for me on these devices, I would abandon the TWC and just buy them direct. What should be a simple process is being made mind-numbingly complicated and drawn out. I understand not spending their money on my ENT appointment until they confirm I need it but would it be so hard to say “the ENT appointment is free as long your hearing test results confirm this is necessary otherwise you will be billed for the appointment.” In the interest of expediency, that seems like a more efficient way to do things. If this program is designed to help me get or keep a job then it would be in their best interest to make this a quicker process, right?

At this point, it has been two weeks since my hearing test and I’m no closer to getting my new ears than I was before I went in for that first hearing test. Had my insurance covered the costs, or even partial cost, of the devices then I would have already ordered them and likely had them delivered to the audiologist for configuration. Had I opted to not go through the TWC program, I could have already paid for them in full and the devices could have potentially been delivered to the audiologist. But instead, nothing has been ordered, nothing has been paid for, and it looks like I am weeks away from being at that point. I’ll be lucky if I have my new ears by Thanksgiving at the current rate despite it being the very beginning of October now.

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