ADA and IHS Leaders Charge the Hill

As the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) will be hosting its biennial Hearing on the Hill event as this edition of Audiology Practices goes to print, AP sought to glean information from professionals who have visited Capitol Hill. Both IHS President-Elect Richard Giles, ACA, BC-HIS, and ADA Treasurer Angela Morris, Au.D., have visited Capitol Hill and have been extremely active in their respective organizations and in regards to legislative activity on a national level. Capitol Hill will be the focus of much attention to all those in the hearing healthcare profession during the month of March, as the Hearing Aid Tax Credit bill is reintroduced to Congress. This bill would help countless Americans who need hearing instruments, but simply cannot afford them. If enacted, it would provide a $500 tax credit per hearing aid available once every five years. The benefits of reducing special education costs for children through increased hearing aid usage are immense, as are the benefits of minimizing psychological and mental disorders associated with untreated hearing loss in older adults.

The Hearing Aid Tax Credit is currently being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Public support and House/Senate co-sponsorship is crucial to the tax.

AP: Can you tell us what it meant to be on Capitol Hill with other key members of the hearing healthcare industry, for the Hearing Aid Tax Credit?

RG: Spending time speaking with our elected officials is key to our democracy, as laws and rules are written by those who show up. During the previous Hearing On The Hill, I was able to spend some one- on-one time with my Congressional Representative (who I don’t always agree with regarding her stance on issues facing our nation, but she is an advocate for Senior and Veterans’ issues). We spoke at length regarding the Hearing Aid Tax Credit and she was very attentive and agreed to support it when it came to the floor for a vote. I also visited with the staff of both of my Senators, and they indicated they would support the legislation as well. It is often said that passing laws is like making sausage—you don’t want to watch either. I did not find that to be true in this case.

AM: It provided me with more information about the unique expertise that each stakeholder brings to the table. It is always a great thing when our professions and industry can come together for one purpose. I believe that we all have the best interests of our patients in mind, and by participating in this type of event together, we can make a more significant impact.

AP: HIA’s Hearing on the Hill event is unique because it brings together hearing aid manufacturers, audiologists, hearing aid specialists, and consumers. Did you get a chance to participate in any meetings that included a cross-industry team?

RG: Yes, I spent some time, alongside an audiologist, speaking with a key senator that is a sponsor of the Tax Credit legislation. The senator was aware that there are two separate professions that fit hearing aids and was very pleased that we would choose to work together promoting a way for those who suffer from untreated hearing loss to better afford hearing healthcare. This legislator commented that if only the two political parties could work together as well, Congress would be able to do some amazing things!

AM: Yes, and it really worked to our advantage because each stakeholder brought a different compelling perspective to the conversation during our meetings. It shows that the issue is diverse and not just an agenda that one group is trying to push. Each perspective gives a greater detail on how the patient is affected and how the Hearing Aid Tax Credit bill would benefit them.

AP: In your opinion, how important is it that all members of the hearing healthcare team come together as a unified group of providers on issues such as the Hearing Aid Tax credit and other consumer-related issues?

RG: While we probably will always have our differences, audiologists and hearing aid specialists have a great deal more in common than those issues that separate us. Agreeing to not agree when necessary and uniting our energies with the other members of the hearing health care team to provide better more affordable care is critical in order to see the Hearing Aid Tax Credit become a reality.

AM: Whenever we can speak with one voice, we have the greatest impact! That’s why it is important for our patients and our professional interests that we work together towards all common goals that we can identify. We will continue to have our separate issues and initiatives (maybe even some on which we must always agree to disagree). But, by collaborating on the issues where we agree and can come together, we can provide better outcomes for our patients and for our professions.

AP: While Hearing on the Hill brings us together on a federal level, do you believe there is opportunity to work together at the state level on issues that benefit both professions and your patients?

RG: In the state I practice in, Washington, we have joined forces with audiologists to formulate rules to implement an important piece of legislation regarding educational standards and training of new individuals in the hearing aid specialist profession. While some audiologists opposed the initial piece of legislation, we were able to come to agreement and re-write the bill so that both professions could work towards easing some of the onerous requirements for people who already have a college degree and are interested in becoming licensed as Hearing Aid Specialists. Over the course of the last 9 months, we have hammered out rules with representatives of the community colleges, audiology, and speech language pathology to insure that consumers in Washington have access to care especially in rural areas that are currently underserved. We can and do work together amongst ourselves, it’s not always easy but it is possible.

AM: Absolutely! Many states do not have adequate plans or mandates in place for hearing healthcare services and Medicaid programs are vastly inconsistent. Over-the-counter and online hearing aid sales, as well as the illegal marketing of personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are just a few of the issues that we have and should continue to address together at the federal and state levels. There is a need to continue to strengthen the legislative and regulatory language for these products for the protection of the public. In addition, and maybe most importantly, we should all be working more effectively together to raise awareness about the importance of protecting and optimizing your hearing throughout the course of your life.

AP: Can you share with us what you liked most about representing your profession on Capitol Hill?

RG: Representing IHS on Capitol Hill was a thrill. Meeting and speaking with those who hold elected office took the mystique out of how I previously viewed them. Sometimes, I think we as citizens put those individuals on a pedestal when actually they are no different than you or I. Meeting and talking with them about issues we hold dear tends to remove that artificial impression that they are somehow superior than the citizenry they govern.

AM: ADA stands for the same values that I believe in. Our slogan is “The Power to Practice.” To me that goes beyond how to run a business, or how to be an audiologist. It represents a commitment to best clinical and business practices, which result in patient outcomes that are consistently excellent. Representing ADA on the Hill, has made me feel more a part of that mission. It is a great feeling for me to be able to do my part to advocate for audiologists and our patients so that we ensure better access to hearing healthcare and eliminate negative outcomes that stem from untreated hearing loss.

AP: Can you tell us why ADA/IHS believes that the Hearing Aid Tax Credit is important and necessary legislation? This important bill, if enacted, would provide a tax credit of up to $500 per hearing aid every five years ($1,000 if two hearing aids are required).

RG: Currently, we as hearing professionals have only reached, depending on where you set the bar, between 20 and 25 percent of those who could benefit from a better life through better hearing. We have all read how critical staying involved is, especially as we reach those “Golden Years”. Untreated hearing loss is isolating tens of millions of people in our country alone, it is truly sad to those lives being less well lived than possible. The high cost of modern hearing aids is frequently sited as a barrier to entry for those services and products offered by our two professions. Anything we can do jointly to ease that barrier is truly a blessing to the underserved. The Hearing Aid Tax Credit would allow many millions of people to live life to the fullest though reconnection to those they love and the world around them. This legislation only makes sense since very few health insurance policies offer coverage for hearing devices (and those that do frequently only cover very basic technology often mailed directly to the consumer without that critical professional involvement to assure the device is correctly fit and the counseling so important to its success). I look forward to working closely with ADA as we move forward with this piece of important and necessary legislation.

AM: Audiologists treat hundreds of thousands of patients each year and have witnessed first-hand the negative social and economic effects that result from untreated hearing loss, including social isolation, depression, the loss of independence, unemployment and lower income potential (than those with no hearing loss). Today’s hearing aid technology, coupled with the quality patient care provided by licensed audiologists and other licensed hearing healthcare professionals, can significantly mitigate the negative impacts of hearing loss for the vast majority of the 36 million Americans who suffer with it. Hearing aids are not covered under Medicare, nor are they covered under the vast majority of state-mandated and private insurance plans. In fact, 70 percent of hearing aid purchases involve no third party payment, which places the entire burden of the purchase on the patient. We must provide citizens an affordable means of treatment for hearing loss, which is why the passage of a Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act is both immediately critical and long overdue.    
Richard Giles, ACA, BC-HIS, is a 34-year veteran of the hearing care industry and currently serves as President-Elect of the International Hearing Society (IHS). Giles has held just about every office in the Washington Hearing Society, is past President of the Oregon Hearing Society and the International Institute for Hearing Instrument Studies. He owns a private practice dispensing office, Hearing by Design, located in Vancouver, Washington.

Angela Morris, Au.D., currently serves as Treasurer of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA). She has been practicing Audiology since 2003 in the state of Kentucky, where she has served as President of the Kentucky Academy of Audiology (KAA).