We approach the end of the year with hearing health care issues once again in the news, this time on the floor of the United States Senate with the introduction of the Hearing Health Accessibility Act (S. 1647). Introduced by US Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo) and Tim Johnson (D-SD), this bipartisan legislation would give Medicare beneficiaries the option to seek either a physician or an audiologist first for hearing health care services. As a growing number of Americans experience hearing loss and related conditions, public awareness of hearing health issues also has increased.
Currently, Medicare and most insurance programs require that patients seeking help for hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance disorders obtain a referral from a primary care physician before seeking the services of an audiologist. An estimated 20 million people suffer hearing loss, but only 6 million of them are fitted with hearing instruments. If this legislation passes, it will enable patients to go directly to an audiologist for diagnosis and treatment.
The pending Hearing Health Accessibility Act is a result of the relentless efforts of such audiologically based organizations as the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) and the American Speech-Language Association (ASHA), whose purpose is to raise community awareness of hearing health issues on local, national, and international levels. In a statement issued by AAA President Brad Stach, PhD, The Academy is pleased that Senator Campbell and Senator Johnson are leading efforts in the Senate to ensure that the Medicare program keeps the pace with other federal health care programs and private health plans that already allow direct access to audiologists. Hearing Products Report (HPR) applauds the perseverance of these groups in promoting hearing health care through outreach campaigns, technological development courses, educational programs, and government legislation.
In closing, the entire staff of HPR wishes you a peaceful holiday season and prosperous 2004. See you in the New Year.
Rogena Schuyler Silverman