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Why dental, hearing and vision care is essential to your health

Color portrait of Sachi Fujimori By Sachi Fujimori

As you age, having dental, vision and hearing care is vital to your total health and well-being. Neglecting these areas may be linked to other health problems, such as heart issues, dementia, depression and increased risk of falls. 

One major benefit of Medicare Advantage (MA) is that many plans offer coverage for your eyes, ears and teeth. Original Medicare, on the other hand, does not cover any routine hearing, vision or dental care, and that can get to be expensive. For many MA plans, these benefits are already included in the plan’s premium — the amount you pay each month for health coverage.

“Hearing, vision and dental care is not only important for your physical health, but can help improve your quality of life and social interactions with family and friends,” says Dr. Alena Baquet-Simpson, senior director, Medical Health Services at Aetna®.  

MA plans from Aetna are designed to help empower you to take care of your total health. Read on to learn more about why it’s so important to take care of your dental, vision and hearing health as you age. 

Hearing care

Hearing care

Hearing loss in older adults

Hearing loss is associated with increased risk of social isolation, dementia and depression.

Social isolation

Dementia

Depression 

Hearing care

Hearing loss in older adults

Hearing loss is associated with increased risk of social isolation, dementia and depression.

Social isolation

Dementia

Depression

Hearing loss can have many physical and mental health impacts. With difficulty hearing, you may be unable to participate in conversations with family and friends. And you may avoid daily activities such as going out to the store or social events. This social isolation can eventually lead to depression. 

Impaired hearing is also strongly linked to an increased risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have shown that certain areas of the brain that are linked to hearing and communication may shrink from hearing loss. “With dementia, one of the ways you can protect yourself, and maybe slow the onset, is by exercising and stimulating your brain,” says Baquet-Simpson. “But when you have hearing loss, there's potentially less stimulation to the brain.”

Understanding hearing benefits

Understanding hearing benefits

Hearing

 

What’s covered:

Most of our MA plans cover an annual hearing exam and hearing aid fitting at no extra cost through a network provider. 

 

How it works:

Most of our plans have teamed up with NationsHearing to provide hearing exam and hearing aid benefits.  You must schedule your appointment through NationsHearing. Otherwise,  your hearing aids will not be covered. 

Understanding hearing benefits

Understanding hearing benefits

Hearing

 

What’s covered:

Most of our MA plans cover an annual hearing exam and hearing aid fitting at no extra cost through a network provider.

 

How it works:

Most of our plans have teamed up with NationsHearing to provide hearing exam and hearing aid benefits. You must schedule your appointment through NationsHearing. Otherwise, your hearing aids will not be covered.

If you have hearing issues, it’s important to get treatment. Hearing aids may prevent some of these health risks and help you better interact with loved ones. Many MA plans include coverage for hearing exams and an annual allowance to help cover the cost of hearing aids. 

Vision care

Vision care

Why vision health is connected to your total health

Vision loss is linked to a higher risk of falls, dementia and depression.

Falls

Dementia

Depression 

Vision care

Why vision health is connected to your total health

Vision loss is linked to a higher risk of falls, dementia and depression.

Falls

Dementia

Depression 

As you age, you are at higher risk for vision problems such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and dry eye. You may also experience problems with seeing objects up close (farsightedness) and needing more light to see more clearly. 

Vision loss in older adults is linked to increased risk of falls, dementia and depression. It affects your ability to take part in daily activities such as driving, reading the newspaper or watching television. By losing independence, you may be at higher risk for social isolation and depression. Vision loss can also impact your depth perception and balance, putting you at higher risk for falling.

Understanding vision benefits

Understanding vision benefits 

Vision

 

What’s covered:

Many MA plans cover an annual vision exam at no extra cost. 

 

How it works:

With some plans, you can see any eye doctor within a network of providers. 

For plans with a direct member reimbursement (DMR) benefit, there are no network requirements and you’re given an annual allowance to spend on prescription frames, lenses or contacts.

Understanding vision benefits

Understanding vision benefits 

Vision

 

What’s covered:

Many MA plans cover an annual vision exam at no extra cost.

 

How it works:

With some plans, you can see any eye doctor within a network of providers.

For plans with a direct member reimbursement (DMR) benefit, there are no network requirements and you’re given an annual allowance to spend on prescription frames, lenses or contacts.

Original Medicare may cover certain services related to cataract surgery, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, but it does not cover routine eye care. Many MA plans, however, offer coverage for an annual eye exam, as well as prescription glasses and contacts. Regular eye exams are important to help identify health problems earlier and to maintain your vision.

Dental care

Dental care

The importance of dental health

Tooth loss can impact your ability to … 

Speak

Socialize

Eat

 

Untreated gum disease is linked to other health conditions, such as …

Cardiovascular disease

Rheumatoid arthritis

Dental care

The importance of dental health

Tooth loss can impact your ability to…

Speak

Socialize

Eat

 

Untreated gum disease is linked to other health conditions, such as…

Cardiovascular disease

Rheumatoid arthritis

Good oral health is also connected to your overall physical and mental health. Studies have shown that gum disease is closely associated with higher risk of heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Untreated gum disease may increase inflammation in the body, which can lead to damage to other tissues and organs.  

Maintaining healthy teeth also helps you eat a well-balanced diet. If you have extensive tooth loss, you are less likely to eat nutritiously. That’s because you have difficulty chewing certain high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that older adults with poor oral health are more likely to be underweight or obese. Tooth loss can also impact a person’s ability to speak, and it can lead to social isolation.

Understanding dental benefits

Understanding dental benefits

Dental

Many MA plans offer one of three types of dental benefits:

 

Network coverage 

Included within the plan: Yes

What’s covered:

Preventive services (cleaning, X-rays, exams) may be covered at 100%. 

For comprehensive services, you may pay a portion of the cost (coverage varies by plan). 

How it works:

You may need to see a dental care provider within our network of providers.*

 

Direct member reimbursement allowance 

Included within the plan: Yes

What’s covered:

You can use the allowance toward almost all dental services except for teeth whitening and a few administrative costs (e.g., missed appointments).

How it works:

You’re given an annual “allowance” to spend on dental care. You pay the provider for services at the time you get care and send us information like a receipt and reimbursement form to get reimbursed. You can see any licensed provider.

  

Optional supplemental benefits 

If your plan doesn’t include dental coverage, or you want to increase your coverage, you may have the option to purchase dental benefits with an additional monthly premium. 

How it works:

Same as network coverage. You must see a dental care provider within our network of providers.**

 

 *Some HMO-POS and PPO members with Total Choice Dental benefits can also see dentists that are not part of the Aetna Dental PPO Network.  Check the Evidence of Coverage (EOC) for more information.

**Some PPO plans allow you to see a dentist outside of the network, but these services will cost you more.

Understanding dental benefits

Understanding dental benefits

Dental

Many MA plans offer one of three types of dental benefits:

 

Network coverage 

Included within the plan: Yes

What’s covered:

Preventive services (cleaning, X-rays, exams) may be covered at 100%. 

For comprehensive services, you may pay a portion of the cost (coverage varies by plan). 

How it works:

You may need to see a dental care provider within our network of providers.*

 

Direct member reimbursement allowance 

Included within the plan: Yes

What’s covered:

You can use the allowance toward almost all dental services except for teeth whitening and a few administrative costs (e.g., missed appointments).

How it works:

You’re given an annual “allowance” to spend on dental care. You pay the provider for services at the time you get care and send us information like a receipt and reimbursement form to get reimbursed. You can see any licensed provider.

  

Optional supplemental benefits 

If your plan doesn’t include dental coverage, or you want to increase your coverage, you may have the option to purchase dental benefits with an additional monthly premium. 

How it works:

Same as network coverage. You must see a dental care provider within our network of providers.**

 

 *Some HMO-POS and PPO members with Total Choice Dental benefits can also see dentists that are not part of the Aetna Dental PPO Network. Check the Evidence of Coverage (EOC) for more information.

**Some PPO plans allow you to see a dentist outside of the network, but these services will cost you more.

By regularly seeing a dentist for checkups and maintaining good oral hygiene, you can prevent many of these issues or you can get treatment for them. Many MA plans offer some form of dental coverage, including annual exams, cleanings, X-rays and fillings. Some plans offer more comprehensive coverage for dental services such as dentures and root canals. 

If you neglect one area of your health, such as hearing, vision or dental care, it can have a wider impact on your overall well-being. But with additional benefits to fit your needs, there may be an MA plan that can help you care for your total health and achieve your best quality of life.

About the author

Sachi Fujimori is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn who focuses on writing about science and health.  A good day is one where she eats her vegetables and remembers to live in the moment with her baby girl.

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