Somewhere in the halls of Congress, people we elected are discussing whether Medicare should expand to cover hearing aids. Like too many things in our current political environment, the discussion is polarized, with some Republicans saying we can’t afford to expand Medicare, and some Democrats saying it’s the right thing to do.

Sadly, we citizens are forced to watch endless proxy fights while our elected officials focus on their own short-term political gain, rather than America’s long-term financial and physical health.

If there were a true cost-benefit analysis of expanding Medicare, it would show that, far from costing more money, expanding the program to cover hearing aids could save billions by containing health-care costs. That’s because hearing loss is a significant modifiable risk factor leading to dementia.

Researchers have found that even mild hearing loss is associated with double the risk of dementia. The worse your hearing gets, the higher the risk of dementia; people with severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop the disease. What’s more, recent research suggests that older adults who get hearing aids are less likely to be diagnosed with dementia in the following three years.

Currently, there are 28.8 million people who could benefit from hearing aids, yet among those over 70, less than 30% have ever used them. This is not a surprise: Quality hearing aids are expensive — typically $2,500 out of pocket — so many retirees and disabled Americans cannot afford them.

If we could provide working hearing aids to half of the people who need them, we might dramatically lower the rates of future cases of dementia stemming from hearing loss, thereby improving lives while saving money.

“If we could provide working hearing aids to half of the people who need them, we might dramatically lower the rates of future cases of dementia stemming from hearing loss, thereby improving lives while saving money.”

Lance Haver

Dementia is one of the most expensive diseases. In the last five years of life, health-care costs exceed $250,000 for each person with dementia, 57% more than it costs to care for someone without it.

Dementia is also not uncommon; more than six million Americans are currently living with the disease. Spending money now to ensure that everyone who needs a hearing aid gets one could save many others from eventually developing dementia, which would save billions of dollars in health care costs over the next decade.

Expanding Medicare to cover hearing aids is the right thing to do, both for humane and financial reasons. It could allow many people to live longer, fuller lives.

» READ MORE: Medicare Advantage plans’ ‘free’ dental, vision, hearing benefits come at a cost

In an attempt to “fire up their base” and win the next election, some opponents of the Medicare expansion are putting their political fortunes ahead of the health and well-being of the American public.

If we continue to elect craven politicians who put their fortunes ahead of the public, we must acknowledge the problem lies with us, the voters. Too often we are misled into voting against our interests. Until we learn from our mistakes and demand our elected leaders put our well-being before their political aspirations, we cannot expect them to put us first.

Lance Haver is the consumer reporter for Hall Monitor, a weekly TV news program. Lance@LanceHaver.com