NCHR Comments on Broadening Coverage for Cochlear Implants

August 4, 2022

National Center for Health Research’s Comments On Broadening the National Coverage for Cochlear Implantation

We are writing to express our views on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed decision memo reconsidering the national coverage determination for cochlear implantation.

The National Center for Health Research (NCHR) is a nonprofit think tank that conducts, analyzes, and scrutinizes research on a range of health issues, with particular focus on which prevention strategies and treatments are most effective for which patients and consumers. We do not accept funding from companies that make products that are the subject of our work, so we have no conflicts of interest.

We agree that cochlear implants have been shown to improve sentence recognition, thus helping affected adults communicate better and reducing feelings of isolation [1,2]. However, there are several issues that we strongly urge CMS to consider before deciding whether to broaden the national coverage.

We are especially concerned about the high percentage (13%) of adverse events for cochlear implantation, which can include minor infections and vertigo, to more serious infections like Meningitis [1, 3]. Even relatively minor adverse events such as taste disturbances and tinnitus can affect a person’s quality of life.  Moreover, 2.7% of the reported adverse events can have life-altering consequences, such as permanent facial paralysis or loss of pre-operative functional acoustic hearing [1, 3]. We are concerned that the CMS decision memo did not include information from the FDA’s website regarding the numerous risks of cochlear implants, or about the previous recalls of cochlear implants that were found to cause permanent damage. In fact, when we analyzed the number of adverse events reported to the FDA’s MAUDE adverse event reporting system we saw thousands of adverse event reports, including more than 4,000 adverse events reported to the FDA in 2021 alone; approximately 2,000 from device malfunctions and more than 2,000 reported patient injuries.  Tragically, more than 50 deaths have been reported to the FDA by health professionals and others that were attributed to cochlear implants.  Although the adverse event reports to the FDA are not always confirmed by medical records, it is a voluntary reporting system that is considered to be “the tip of the iceberg” for any medical device, since many surgeons and other medical professionals are reluctant to take the time to report any but the more serious adverse events where the medical device seems clearly to blame.

All the statistics we cited above could be acceptable if there were adequate data on whether specific demographic or medical traits put Medicare beneficiaries at higher or lower risk. Unfortunately, as CMS points out, there is not enough research on which traits or pre-existing risk factors cause a greater chance of failure of the cochlear implantation and who is most at-risk for having severe complications. Moreover, even though these are life-long devices, there was insufficient long-term data on cochlear implants that are implanted for more than 2 years. Filling in these research gaps is vital to enable providers and patients to make educated decisions about whether the benefits outweigh the risks for them, which is essential information for adults whose hearing disability is less harmful to their quality of life.

We strongly urge CMS to require the makers of cochlear implants to gather this information prior to CMS making a decision of whether and under what conditions to broaden coverage to those who’s sentence recognition score is below 60%, and to those who do not meet clinical criteria but are involved in Category B IDE Studies or Routine Cost Trials. The companies need to have the incentive to conduct this research, and they will not have that incentive if the national coverage determination is expanded without that data. We are concerned that broadening coverage without more precise information about which patients are likely to be at greatest risk of serious adverse events would make it very difficult for patients with less severe hearing loss to make informed decisions about whether the benefits outweigh the risks for them.  We do not oppose broadening the coverage when it is possible to provide more meaningful information to patients and providers about the short-term and long-term risks for patient subpopulations. If data become available that would reduce the chances of serious adverse events, broadening coverage could help to reduce hospitalization, death, falls, dementia and depression reported for older persons with severe hearing loss that cannot be corrected by hearing aids [1,4].

In addition, we urge CMS to clarify whether any broadening of coverage would also include broadening access to all necessary aspects of proper usage of cochlear implants, including follow-up appointments and specialists needed in the recovery process. CMS should also clarify the required qualifications for implantation. For example, CMS states that patients need to demonstrate “a willingness to undergo an extended program of rehabilitation”. However, patients may not be perceived as willing if they cannot take time off for all the recommended appointments, cannot drive due to other impairments, or live in rural areas that are far from the services needed. Additional resources should be made available to reduce discrimination against patients who may be perceived as unwilling or ineligible through no fault of their own.

The National Center for Health Research can be reached at or at (202) 223-4000.


  1. Carlson ML. (2020). Cochlear Implantation in Adults. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(16),1531-1542. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra1904407.
  2. Mahboubi H, Lin HW, Bhattacharyya N. (2018). Prevalence, Characteristics, and Treatment Patterns of Hearing Difficulty in the United States. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 144(1),65-70. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2017.2223.
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). Benefits and Risks of Cochlear Implants.
  4. Cunningham LL, Tucci DL. (2017). Hearing Loss in Adults. New England Journal of Medicine, 377(25), 2465-2473. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra1616601.