On November 17, 2016, the US Senate passed HR 3471, the Veterans Mobility Safety Act of 2015 by unanimous consent. This bill was passed by the US House of Representatives on September 12, 2016, and is expected to be signed into law by the President.

The bill is intended to provide veterans with improved hearing healthcare access and quality of services by integrating hearing aid specialists into the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hearing care team. The bill was championed in the Senate by S 564 sponsors Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jon Tester (D-MT). While the legislation includes a provision that would recognize hearing aid specialists for appointment under the VA, it specifically requires that hearing aid specialists provide services within their scope of practice related to the practice of fitting and dispensing of hearing aids, and under a treatment plan of an audiologist.

This legislative action comes on the heels of the Department of Labor (DOL) disclosing that they have officially rescinded the apprenticeship program for hearing aid dispensers. The DOL cited the need to seek additional input from audiology stakeholders before creating such a program in the future. This information was provided through a correspondence with Congressman Tim Walberg (R-MI), who expressed concern to the DOL on the development of the apprenticeship program without input from audiology organizations.

The passage of HR 3471 and the DOL decision represent the culmination of efforts by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), American Academy of Audiology (AAA), and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), to prevent hearing aid dispensers from “inappropriately expanding their job functions and duties” both within the VA system and on the state level. According to ADA, this “marks a great victory for audiologists as we continue to ensure our patients receive access to high-quality audiologic care!”

ADA reports that, with regard to recent legislative efforts, audiology advocates successfully stopped the advancement of the original House version HR 353 and original Senate version S 564, which the ADA announcement characterizes as “the misguided ‘Fit to Serve‘ legislation.” These bills were proposed and shepherded by the International Hearing Society (IHS) and hearing aid dispensers nationwide. Together, the Audiology Organizations worked with members of Congress to modify the bill’s language to restrict job duties of hearing aid dispensers to reflect their limited training and education. As a result, the language contained in the final, passed version of the Veterans Mobility Safety Act includes patient protections that did not previously exist in the original House or Senate bills.

The Audiology Organizations also engaged in extensive outreach to the DOL to rescind the program. The ADA reports that the Audiology Organizations are grateful to Congressman Walberg, who sits on both the Energy and Commerce and Government Reform and Oversight Committees for his willingness to intervene with DOL to inquire on the process it took to more thoroughly vet the IHS apprenticeship program. ADA first discovered the apprenticeship program in August of 2015, and has been working since that time to seek rescission of the program. View the original ADA letter to the DOL.

Both Congress and the DOL have taken steps to recognize and preserve the role of audiologists in the delivery of hearing healthcare services, duly responsible for the development and oversight of patients’ audiologic care plans, and limit the role of hearing aid dispensers to that of the fitting and dispensing of hearing aids.

The ADA is reportedly seeking “to further protect the audiology profession and the public from dispensers seeking to inappropriately provide tinnitus services.” To that end, ADA filed a lawsuit against IHS regarding the Tinnitus Care Provider Certificate. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, near where IHS is located. Read the Complaint. More information around these issues will be posted on the ADA website, as it becomes available. For additional information on current events, contact Stephanie Czuhajewski at sczuhajewski@audiologist.org.

Source: Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) ; IHS