Collaboration and Unity, a Silver Lining from the UHC Cloud

Author: Stephanie Czuhajewski, Executive Director

Since the launch of the United Health Care/ Hi Health Innovations Medicare Advantage program in October 2011, there has been a newfound unity and collaborative spirit among hearing healthcare professionals and the organizations that serve them. New relationships have been established and old friendships have been strengthened in an effort to raise awareness about the risks of online hearing testing and online/over-the-counter hearing aid sales.

Representatives from the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the International Hearing Society (IHS) have been meeting on a regular basis to coordinate advocacy efforts.

In February, these groups issued a joint statement on consumer-administered hearing tests and direct-to-consumer hearing aid sales, and in May, the groups distributed letters to state departments of health encouraging health officials to alert consumers to the potential risks of buying hearing aids without being evaluated by a licensed hearing healthcare professional.

In addition to the joint efforts, ADA, AAA, AAO-HNS, ASHA, and IHS have worked through multiple channels individually to express concerns about the UHC/Hi program to their contacts at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Hearing Industries Association (HIA) has also done an outstanding job of communicating concerns regarding the UHC/HI initiative to representatives of the FDA, and communicating outcomes back to allied organizations.

Equally important as the efforts by the national and international associations, have been the efforts of the state-based associations, who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness about this important issue with state and federal authorities. In fact, it was a representative from the Minnesota Academy of Audiology (MAA) that alerted ADA about the letter from the FDA to UHC/HI on March 28th, in which the FDA ordered the company to cease marketing its online hearing test. The work of MAA, and other state-based professional associations, has been and will continue to be instrumental to ensuring that consumers receive safe and effective hearing healthcare services.

The teamwork and selfless sharing of information and ideas through state, national and international organizations, by audiologists, physicians, hearing instrument specialists and industry partners regarding the UHC/HI initiative have resulted in an increased respect and goodwill among these professionals, and has opened the door for future opportunities to work together to achieve common goals.

Collaboration and unity is the silver lining from the UHC cloud. Our professional organizations will not always see eye to eye (or ear to ear?), but there are many areas where we can and should work together to the benefit of our members and their patients.