Lefrak Hall’s Hearing and Speech Clinic now accepts Blue Cross Blue Shield (state and federal), United Healthcare, Medicare and Medicaid plans
As the Department of Hearing and Speech’s Hearing and Speech Clinic in LeFrak Hall has done during previous iterations of this National Audiology Awareness Month in October, visitors can again receive free hearing screenings by emailing hespclinic [at] umd [dot] edu () or calling 301-405-4218.
Unlike years prior, some individuals identified by those screenings as requiring additional, comprehensive evaluations no longer have to pay for these services out of pocket, now that the clinic accepts payment from the university’s preferred Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare insurance plans.
“Enrolling with insurance as a clinic under the University umbrella is a real challenge,” said Dr. Nicole Nguyen, an associate clinical professor and director of clinical audiology in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences. “We had to get our practice enrolled as a provider with each insurance company so we are a facility for that insurance company—which would have been easier if we were a private practice—and after that, we had to get each practitioner credentialed with that insurance company.”
The complex process, which began in March 2020, was worth it, Dr. Nguyen said, given difficulties in the healthcare landscape.
“Our mission to serve the community became really obvious,” Dr. Nguyen said. “Everyone was motivated to get back into the clinic and reopen the clinic during COVID because there were people out there that needed to be seen for these services, especially people stuck at home relying on telephone and Zoom more than they ever have before.”
Bill Lamp, a professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Entomology, was one of them.
“I’ve had hearing loss from the lack of ear protection in my younger days in construction and use of power tools, but only in the last few years has the loss been noticeable,” said Lamp. “Since I was on the University of Maryland campus, albeit infrequently because of the pandemic, I decided to try the Hearing Clinic for testing and unbiased advice on the value and function of hearing aids.”
Lamp worked with Dr. Sarah Sohns, an assistant clinical professor in the department, and her graduate students, who Lamp says, “performed a state-of-the art analysis” of his hearing and “provided a clear, science-based explanation” of his situation. That explanation ultimately led to a hearing aid recommendation.
“I’ve had my hearing aids for over a month now, and have been very satisfied with their performance,” Lamp said. “On my first day of wearing them, I had a student in the last row of my classroom, with a mask, ask a question. I heard the question clearly, showing the benefit from the start.”
An alumnus of the College of Education, David B. Chase ’72, ’79, ’95, was initially evaluated for hearing aids in 2019—which he proceeded to get from the clinic despite them not being covered by insurance at that time—but was going elsewhere for his hearing tests before the clinic began accepting his insurance.
“I was evaluated there by Dr. Christina Shields,” Chase said. “Since then I have benefited from her expertise and personalization, along with the assistance of student interns and office staff, to achieve a revolutionary positive outcome in my hearing and, subsequently, my overall quality of life.”
By accepting private insurance, the clinic is helping improve more individuals’ quality of life, and also provide a higher-quality learning experience for the department’s graduate students.
“Our clinic is a teaching facility for our graduate students, so we wanted to make sure that they see a wide range of different types of patients from different socioeconomic backgrounds and parts of the local community that are more representative of the general population,” said Dr. Nguyen. “Prior to enrolling with insurance, we did see a lot of Medicare patients because [Medicare does not cover hearing aids and] they had to pay for their hearing aids no matter where they went. We weren’t seeing pediatrics, where these services are generally covered in full—of course parents aren't going to pay out of pocket for services that are covered by their insurance.”
Hearing aids can cost upwards of $3,000-$5,000, a price that previous clinic visitors had to pay upfront and wait for their insurance to—if applicable—partially reimburse. A full diagnostic evaluation for conditions that include known or suspected hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sound sensitivity, and auditory processing disorders can cost between $200 to $400.
“It is no longer the case that people who can afford to pay out of pocket for their hearing healthcare get to come to an academic institution for their services,” said Dr. Nguyen. “My hope is now that we've enrolled with Medicare, Medicaid, Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare, we will be able to expand to other insurance providers as we go so we can provide excellent service to all members of the community.”
Story by Rachael Keeney posted on Oct. 7, 2021. Photo: Dr. Nguyen (right) and a student in LeFrak Hall.