Friday, June 29, 2012

Vermont Bound!

En Route, Champlain Canal
42 48.01 N 073 40.01 W

We just began the final leg of this year's northward migration == we are on the Champlain Canal heading for Lake Champlain.  :-)

We live pretty good when we visit the Capital Region because we get to visit so many good friends.   Last night, our friends Roger and Carolyn took us out to dinner.   Thank you very much, it was great to see you two.

The dinner also gave me an opportunity to test my new hearing aids.  They worked well in the extreme background noise of a busy restaurant.  I think I'm ready to say that I'm well satisfied with them.  There's a story behind that though.

When I was 19, I worked in a soda factory handling the (noisy) empty cans.  Ever since then, I've had a severe hearing loss.  I tested it many times.  Basically, my hearing is normal up to 2 kHz, and zero at higher frequencies.  It robs me most of comprehension of conversation.  Noisy environments are the worst.  Now, in my senior years, my hearing becomes a bit worse each year.

I've been reluctant to invest in hearing aids for two reasons.  First, I've been told many times by professionals that my type of hearing loss is hard to compensate for, and that my chances of being dissatisfied with hearing aids was very high.  Second, they are unbelievably expensive.  $2000-$4000 per ear, is not uncommon nowadays.  Most insurances, including Medicare and including the new Affordable Health Care Coverage Act, exclude coverage.

Of course when you pay $4000-$8000 for a pair of aids, you get 30 days to return them if you're not satisfied.  Even so, I'm reluctant to take that risk if I expect failure as most likely.

Last year I decided to try an inexpensive ($200) one as an experiment.  If it worked, I would be way ahead.  If not, then I would not lose a fortune.   I bought only one.  It helped marginally, but not much.  Worse, after two weeks I took it off to protect it from salt spray one windy day when I was rowing ashore.  When I reached in my pocket to fetch it, it was lost.  Warranties or insurance do not cover loss.

Last month, I spotted a discussion on www.slashdot.org entitled, "Why are Hearing Aids So Expensive."  I learned a lot from that.  Most interestingly, someone said, "They sell last year's models as cheap hearing enhancers for hunters."  I went to Cabellas.com and sure enough, they advertised a pair for only $50 (camouflage colored).  Those are the ones I bought, and the ones I'm very satisfied with.  Lucky me.

In the restaurant, the pair of aids amplified all sounds, noise included, but I was much better able to follow the conversation at our own table.  I even understood what the waitress said without asking Libby to repeat it for me.

This experience only reinforces my bitterness and suspicion of the American health care system.   I have no doubt that if I went to an audiologist, that he/she would have steered me to the $4000 per ear solutions, despite the fact that they are inappropriate for me and unnecessary.  They would do everything possible to discourage me from considering an inexpensive solution.  Their motivation is greed.

Two years ago in Vero I went for a "Welcome To Medicare" checkup.  I found the only GP in town who accepted walk-in patients.  He took my blood pressure, listened to my heart, and looked at my eyes and years.  At the end he ordered me to come back for a battery of additional (expensive) tests.  When I came back, the nurse found out I had signed up for a Medicare Advantage Program instead of regular fee-for-service.  She said, "Go away.  We will not treat you under any circumstances."   Upon reflection I figured it out.  That doctor found nothing wrong with me, and had no foundation to order follow-up tests. He was just trying to run up a big bill.  When they found out I had something other than fee-for-service, they rejected me.  The whole setup was a scam designed to cheat Medicare.  Down  in Miami, some doctors are sending geriatric patients for monthly $10,000 MRI scans, "just as a precaution."  The doctors get 60% of the MRI fee, and several earn more than $1 million per month on this perfectly legal scam.

Sorry for the rant.  I've had that bottled up for a long time.

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