The speech-reception threshold (SRT) for sentences presented in a fluctuating interfering background sound of 80 dBA SPL is measured for 20 normal-hearing listeners and 20 listeners with sensorineural hearing impairment. The interfering sounds range from steady-state noise, via modulated noise, to a single competing voice. Two voices are used, one male and one female, and the spectrum of the masker is shaped according to these voices. For both voices, the SRT is measured as well in noise spectrally shaped according to the target voice as shaped according to the other voice. The results show that, for normal-hearing listeners, the SRT for sentences in modulated noise is 4-6 dB lower than for steady-state noise; for sentences masked by a competing voice, this difference is 6-8 dB. For listeners with moderate sensorineural hearing loss, elevated thresholds are obtained without an appreciable effect of masker fluctuations. The implications of these results for estimating a hearing handicap in everyday conditions are discussed. By using the articulation index (AI), it is shown that hearing-impaired individuals perform poorer than suggested by the loss of audibility for some parts of the speech signal. Finally, three mechanisms are discussed that contribute to the absence of unmasking by masker fluctuations in hearing-impaired listeners. The low sensation level at which the impaired listeners receive the masker seems a major determinant. The second and third factors are: reduced temporal resolution and a reduction in comodulation masking release, respectively.