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Medicare should help with hearing aids

Millions of Americans are cut out of one critical health need for the worst reason of all — money. Hearing loss affects about 30 million Americans to different degrees. It is more common as people get older. And yet there’s a gap in health care options: Medicare does not cover the problem.

And hearing aids are tremendously expensive: $4,700 for a pair including all the associated services. Absent Medicare coverage, people have to pay it out of pocket, and few can write a check, or even look at hefty payment plans, for that kind of money. Private insurance coverage also is uneven and unpredictable.

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is sounding the alarms about the problem, even though the solutions, or partial solutions, should be obvious and attainable.

One, Medicare should be expanded to cover hearing loss. Two, private insurers should step up with plans of their own. Three, rules governing the sale of hearing aids should be revised. The industry doubtless wants to protect itself, but the simplest hearing aids should be sold over the counter at drugstores.

There’s not that much difference, really, between what would be over-the-counter devices and the reading glasses millions of people buy from drugstores for a fraction of what they’d pay for a prescription from an eye doctor. In fact, many eye doctors tell patients to buy such glasses, if they don’t have other complicating medical problems.

Absent correction, scientists say hearing loss can increase the risk for dementia, for falling, for depression. It’s simply unacceptable for millions of people to go without help.

The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer, June 6

Extraordinary Swiss tunnel puts US to shame

Americans should congratulate the Swiss and other Europeans on the June 1 inauguration of the record-setting 35-mile-long Gotthard rail tunnel under the Alps.

It is now the longest and deepest rail tunnel in the world, surpassing Japan’s 33-mile-long Seikan tunnel and the 31-mile-long Channel Tunnel between France and the United Kingdom. Financed by the Swiss, it cost $12 billion and took 17 years to complete. The challenging project took 2,600 workers to complete; nine died in the construction, a low number in comparison to its scale.

Apart from the speed of north-south European transit, facilitating trade that the Gotthard will make possible, it is also considered to be a major contribution to the environmental health of the Alps. It is estimated that it will replace with high-speed rail traffic more than 1 million truck trips per year.

The importance of its inauguration was underlined by Swiss Federal President Johann Schneider-Ammann, who presided, but also by the presence of French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Some 600 actors participated in the frolics accompanying the ceremony.

Americans have to wonder why we can no longer perform such feats, particularly looking at the state of our infrastructure, education and health care systems. The Federal Reserve poured some $3.7 trillion into the American banks in quantitative easing to try to shake the U.S. economy out of the recession that began in 2007. That didn’t work, except to fatten up the bankers. Crippled by our political system and general Washington dysfunction, it has been many decades since the United States built anything of the magnitude of the Swiss Gotthard, the Japanese Seikan or the Channel Tunnel.

It is possible that the only such project that the Republican Congress would approve would be adding former President Ronald Reagan’s head to Mount Rushmore.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 5

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