Does Medicare Cover Ear Cleaning?

Most people clean their ears themselves at home. While this is common and generally effective, it’s not always the best choice. Sometimes, you need to have your ears looked at and cleaned by a doctor.

Medicare will pay for this cleaning only if you have a severe earwax buildup. If you have a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, however, it might cover more ear cleaning services.

When does Medicare cover ear cleaning?

Medicare doesn’t cover standard ear cleanings. Most ear cleanings, even when you receive them from a doctor, aren’t considered medically necessary — so they won’t be covered.

However, there is a notable exception. Medicare will sometimes cover cleaning if you have a serious buildup of earwax clogging your ears. This is known as an earwax impaction.

Medicare will cover the removal of earwax to treat your impaction if the buildup:

  • is causing you pain, pressure in your ears, or trouble hearing
  • can’t be removed by ear drops, cotton swabs, or a device called a cerumen spoon
  • is removed by a physician or other advanced practice professional

In this case, Medicare Part B will only cover one type of ear cleaning procedure: ear irrigation. Under any other circumstances, however, Medicare Part B won’t pay for your ear irrigation cleaning.

A Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, on the other hand, might cover other types of medical ear cleanings not covered by Part B.

These plans are required to cover everything that Medicare parts A and B do. Together, parts A and B are known as original Medicare.

Most Medicare Advantage plans offer additional coverage beyond original Medicare. This often includes hearing services and might include ear cleanings.

How much does the average ear cleaning cost?

The cost of ear cleaning will depend on the procedure you have done and the provider you use.

When you use Medicare Part B to get coverage for the removal of a severe earwax buildup, it will pay 80 percent of the Medicare-approved cost. You’ll pay the remaining 20 percent.

According to the Medicare physician fee schedule for 2020, the guide for what doctors may bill to original Medicare for their services, if approved, Medicare pays between $35 and $60 dollars for earwax removal. That means you’d pay a coinsurance amount between $7 and $12.

Your costs for other ear cleanings will depend on any coverage you might have from a Medicare Advantage plan and the individual provider you use.

For example, CVS Minute Clinic lists the cash price for ear cleaning and earwax removal between $99 and $139. You can look for deals and specials, or ask your primary care provider about their price.

Which Medicare plans may be best for you if you need ear cleaning?

Original Medicare will cover ear irrigation if you need a serious earwax buildup removed. An Advantage plan may cover other ear wax removal procedures when you need ear cleaning that original Medicare doesn’t cover. That means Medicare Advantage might be your best bet if you need ear wax removal performed by a doctor.

You can search for plans in your area using Medicare’s plan finder tool. Look for hearing benefits when you’re comparing plans to see what coverage is available in your area.

Beyond that, there are a few additional ways Medicare can help with your ear cleaning costs.

One option is a Medigap plan. Also known as Medicare supplement insurance, this plan can cover your Part B coinsurance costs. This means you won’t have to pay that 20 percent out-of-pocket cost.

Alternatively, some Medicare Part D plans (prescription drug coverage) and Medicare Advantage plans offer an allowance for over-the-counter medications. So, you could buy an ear cleaning kit at a drugstore and be reimbursed for it. You should check with your doctor before pursuing this option to make sure it would be safe to clean your own ears at home.

Why do people need ear cleaning or earwax removal?

An earwax buildup can lead to a range of symptoms that get worse the longer you go without getting it treated. Symptoms of earwax buildup include:

  • pain in your ears
  • feeling of pressure or fullness in your ears
  • constant itch in your ears
  • trouble hearing
  • dizziness or trouble with balance
  • cough
  • ringing sound in your ears
  • bloody earwax

You can develop an infection in your ears if the buildup isn’t treated. The infection can spread if your ears aren’t cleaned properly. Infections and wax buildup can also lead to painful conditions that affect your eardrum, including a ruptured eardrum.

While many people clean their own ears at home, this isn’t always the best plan.

Using cotton swabs, your fingers, or other at-home instruments often pushes the wax farther into your ear canal, causing more blockage. Plus, many at-home methods can scratch and damage your eardrum, leading to infection.

What happens during professional (medical) ear cleaning?

Your doctor might do a few different things while cleaning your ears. Generally, the amount of earwax buildup you have plays a role in which method your doctor chooses.

Medical ear cleaning techniques include:

  • Irrigation. A doctor or other professional will use a water pump (like a water pick for your ear) to flush your ears with water and carefully clean them out. Just like vacuuming, this can be done on its own or after ear drops have softened the wax. (May be covered by Medicare Part B.)
  • Ear drops. You might be given ear drops to soften the wax so it can be removed easier. (May be covered by some Medicare Advantage plans.)
  • Vacuum. A doctor might use a small vacuum to suck the wax out of your ears. This could happen after drops have softened the wax or even as a first step. (May be covered by some Medicare Advantage plans.)
  • Lancet or spoon. A doctor might insert a small metal device into your ear to carefully scoop out the wax. This might be done after irrigation to get any remaining wax or after drops have been applied. (May be covered by some Medicare Advantage plans.)

Not all medical ear cleaning methods are covered by Medicare Part B or Medicare Advantage. Check your Advantage policy to see which may be covered by your plan.

Normally, ear cleaning is a quick procedure that can be done in your doctor’s office. If you have an earwax buildup that keeps coming back, your doctor might prescribe you ear drops to use at home.

Your Medicare Part D plan might cover these drops.

Safe ways to clean your ears at home:

  • Use a solution of baking soda and water. Allow the solution to sit in your ear for 1 hour, then flush with water. You can repeat this once per day for up to 2 weeks until the wax is removed.
  • Use 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Allow the solution to sit in your ear for 5 minutes. You can repeat this once per day for 3 to 14 days until the wax is removed.
  • Use oils. You can use oils like baby oil, coconut oil, glycerin, mineral oil, and olive oil to soften your earwax. Let the oil of your choice sit in your ear for 5 minutes once or twice per day to get results.
  • Use water. You can flush your own ears with water. You can gently squeeze warm water into your ears using a rubber bulb to dislodge earwax.

Unsafe ways to clean your ears at home:

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