Objective: Severe to profound hearing impairment affects one-half to three-quarters of a million Americans. To function in a hearing society, hearing-impaired persons require specialized educational, social services, and other resources. The primary purpose of this study is to provide a comprehensive, national, and recent estimate of the economic burden of hearing impairment.
Methods: We constructed a cohort-survival model to estimate the lifetime costs of hearing impairment. Data for the model were derived principally from the analyses of secondary data sources, including the National Health Interview Survey Hearing Loss and Disability Supplements (1990-91 and 1994-95), the Department of Education's National Longitudinal Transition Study (1987), and Gallaudet University's Annual Survey of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (1997-98). These analyses were supplemented by a review of the literature and consultation with a four-member expert panel. Monte Carlo analysis was used for sensitivity testing.
Results: Severe to profound hearing loss is expected to cost society $297,000 over the lifetime of an individual. Most of these losses (67%) are due to reduced work productivity, although the use of special education resources among children contributes an additional 21%. Lifetime costs for those with prelingual onset exceed $1 million.
Conclusions: Results indicate that an additional $4.6 billion will be spent over the lifetime of persons who acquired their impairment in 1998. The particularly high costs associated with prelingual onset of severe to profound hearing impairment suggest interventions aimed at children, such as early identification and/or aggressive medical intervention, may have a substantial payback.