CMS Defers Elimination of Non-Physician Work Pool Status
Washington, DC—The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently decided to defer its proposed elimination of the non-physician work pool (NPWP) for at least a year—a step that was advocated in written comments by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), Academy of Dispensing Audiologists (ADA), and the American Academy of Audiology (AAA).

CMS’s decision was reported in the 2006 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) final rule that was released in early November. Before then, the agency had proposed eliminating the NPWP beginning in 2006, a development that would have resulted in a 21% reduction for audiology services over a four-year period (see ADA President Craig Johnson’s comments at the ADA Convention, Nov 2005 HR, p 52-53). The continued use of the NPWP will maintain, or very closely approximate, current total relative value units (RVUs).

“This deferral on the elimination of the non-work pool is a tremendous victory for audiologists,” says ASHA President Dolores Battle. “Also, it gives us with the opportunity to push for an alternative payment methodology that better reflects the professional work audiologists and speech-language pathologists undertake as part of their services.”

ASHA, which advocated vigorously against CMS’s proposed elimination of the NPWP, is reportedly working to develop a more reasonable alternative. For example, through its Health Care Economics Committee, it is in the process of making the case to CMS and the American Medical Association (AMA) Relative Value Update Committee (RUC) that moving the professions’ activities from the technical component (or practice expense) to the professional component (or physician work) is appropriate, legally possible, and equitable for future valuations of audiology and speech-language pathology procedures.


Phonak Hosts 2nd European Pediatric Conference

 Faculty members for the conference included, top row left to right: Richard Seewald (Canada), Jochen Heinz (Germany), Andrea Bohnert (Germany), Eva Orzan (Italy), Frans Coninx (Germany), Patricia Roush (USA), John Bamford (UK), Terence Picton (Canada), Kevin Munro (UK), Lucien Anteunis (The Netherlands), Todd Ricketts (USA), Mark Haggard (UK), Judith Gravel (USA), Martin Stollman (The Netherlands), Yvonne Sininger (USA). Front row left to right: Cecilia Fernández-Samar (Denmark), Mariana Maggio De Maggi (Spain), Josephine Marriage (UK), Julie Dockrell (UK), Susan Scollie (Canada). Also speaking at the conference: Patricia Stelmachowicz (USA), Anne Marie Tharpe (USA).

Amsterdam—In late-October, 350 hearing care professionals from 34 countries joined the Second European Pediatric Conference sponsored by Phonak. The conference was designed to enable participants to integrate newly acquired knowledge into their daily practice and allow interactions with all faculty members.Co-chaired by Richard Seewald, PhD, and Kevin Munro, PhD, the European Pediatric Conference featured a combination of distinguished presentations, workshops, and clinical forums devoted to the research and clinical issues related to hearing loss, communication development, and fitting of hearing systems to infants and young children. Phonak is planning for its next international pediatric conference, due to take place in Chicago, in December 2007. For more information, visit www.phonak.com.  


SHHH Changes Name to Hearing Loss Association of America
Bethesda, MD—The Board of Trustees of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH) voted to change the name of the organization to the Hearing Loss Association of America on November 6, 2005, during its fall meeting.

“SHHH needs to position itself to meet the needs of a new generation of people with hearing loss while continuing to serve the constituents who rely on us today,” says Terry D. Portis, EdD, executive director of SHHH. “I believe that by updating our name and image we will be better able to communicate our message and fulfill our mission. SHHH expects to complete the transition to the Hearing Loss Association of America in March 2006.”

According to recent research conducted by Sergei Kochkin, PhD, the population of people in the United States with hearing loss has grown from an estimated 28 million in 1989 to over 31 million in 2004, and is anticipated to grow by a third in less than a generation, to 40 million people (MarkeTrak VII, July 2005 HR, p 18).

SHHH’s mission is to open the world of communication to people with hearing loss through information, education, advocacy and support. The organization continues to fulfill its mission by launching its online education program, the American Academy of Hearing Loss Support Specialists™ in fall 2005, and launching a new design for its Web site in 2006.

“This strategic decision is a significant milestone in SHHH’s 25 year history,” says Richard

Meyer, president of the SHHH Board of Trustees. “While remaining committed to the vision of Founder Rocky Stone, SHHH is evolving to best meet the needs of people with hearing loss today and in the future, continuing to be a pioneer in advocacy and support for consumers with hearing loss.”


Starkey Group’s ELI Featured in TIME Magazine
Eden Prairie, Minn—In November, Starkey Laboratories introduced the ELI (Ear Level Instrument) to a lot of fanfare: including TIME magazine’s “Coolest Inventions” issue (for a review of ELI, see the article by Yanz, Roberts and Sanguino in the May 2005 HR). The new product is designed to turn hearing aids into wireless headsets. A Bluetooth-enabling device, ELI is said to be the only product of its kind designed to provide wireless connections between hearing aid wearers and the growing assortment of Bluetooth-compatible devices.

 Starkey ELI

According to Starkey Laboratories President Jerry Ruzicka, industry research indicates that hearing instrument wearers report excellent results with their hearing devices in normal listening situations, but poorer results when they use the phone, for example, which can create feedback, static, and poor hearing instrument signal strength. When used with Bluetooth-enabled phones, ELI automatically overrides the hearing instrument’s microphone signal, essentially turning the instrument into a wireless cell phone headset. This dramatically improves the instrument’s sound quality and clarity while eliminating feedback and static problems.

“Those of us who are not hearing impaired have been reaping the benefits of a wireless society for years—we talk on our cell phones, retrieve email messages, and even watch movies while hands-free and on the go,” Ruzicka says. “Why should the hearing impaired be denied these same opportunities? Simply put, they shouldn’t be, and thanks to ELI, they no longer are.”

ELI, the first in what will be a complete line of wireless applications from Starkey, is currently designed for behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing instruments and attaches to the base of the hearing instrument. ELI requires no power from the hearing instrument. Rather, it uses its own rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Each charge offers 140 hours in stand-by mode or 2.5 hours of continuous use. ELI is Bluetooth, CE- and FCC-compliant and has no line-of-sight requirements.


New England Hearing Health Care Conference Held
Amidst the clings and clangs of coins falling into a full bucket, audiologists and hearing instrument specialists met to share some of the latest news in the field of hearing health. The New England Hearing Health Care Conference, sponsored by the Massachusetts Hearing Society, was held at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut on November 4 and 5. The theme of this year’s conference was "Ears To You," primarily focusing on the arts and sciences of hearing aid dispensing and business practices.

The first day of the conference featured a presentation from Creig Dunckel, one of the senior training audiologists at Oticon. In his presentation, “Combining Technology and the Human Element,” Dunckel discussed the evolution of hearing aids. While stressing the human element in hearing aid fitting, he listed some of the ways in which technology is helping to bring the patient into the fitting process. He discussed industry technological tools, including Oticon’s eCaps, which is interactive software that can be used for hearing aid fitting and hearing rehabilitation. He also described how this system can be used to make the hearing aid process more educational and comfortable for both the dispenser and the patient.

From the clinical practice to one of the field’s best research labs, Ruth Bentler, PhD, of the University of Iowa, played her role as the industry “watchdog” in her talk entitled “Digital Features in Hearing Aids: What? Why? When?” Bentler presented insights into the “fact and fiction” of claims made by hearing aid manufacturers. Included in her talk was a discussion of the functionality of directionality and noise-reduction circuits. After an engaging presentation, she left her audience with the final advice that it is necessary to stay abreast of the latest products while making sure that manufacturers stand by their claims.

Michael Poe, designer of the MedRx Live Speech Mapping (LSM) product line, showed how professionals can enhance patient satisfaction and successful hearing aid fittings by using LSM technology. Larry Miller, vice president of human resources for Starkey Laboratories, presented an informative talk on the hiring of employees. Entitled “How to Hire Great Employees—And Keep Them!” Miller dealt with interview questions and personality profile questionnaires that can be used to hire employees and that can strongly benefit any company. He brought much of his own experience into his discussion and maintained that good employees are worth the time it takes to find them.

The post-lunch session on the last day of the convention featured David J. Lilly, PhD, a research investigator at the VA National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research. Although Lilly’s prime area of research is auditory dysfunction in patients with multiple sclerosis and relations between peripheral auditory processing and temporal processing in elderly patients, he spoke on the major views of tinnitus. While there are many controversial views into tinnitus, Lilly extended an open-minded look into this hot topic in his talk “Tinnitus: An Overview of Symptoms, Mechanisms and Management.”

In addition to the educational seminars, attendees had an opportunity to appear for the NBC-HIS exam and also to view displays from many hearing aid manufacturers. Representatives from the manufacturers were on hand to discuss their products and answer any questions presented by the audiologists and dispensers.

—Submitted by Beth Ann Jacques and Sugata Bhattacharjee


NIDCD Grant to Study CMV
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has awarded a $15 million contract to the Univ of Alabama School of Medicine, Birmingham, to lead a multicenter study on the role of congenital—acquired at birth—cytomegalovirus infection (CMV) in the development of hearing loss in children. In one of the largest studies of its kind, 100,000 children will be screened at birth for CMV infection.

Although a majority of infants born in the United States are already screened for hearing loss, most infants are not tested for CMV. Also, newborn hearing screening cannot detect or predict hearing loss that will occur later in childhood. Estimates indicate that as much as 20%-30% of childhood hearing loss is caused by CMV infection.

Other institutions involved in the study are the Univ of Mississippi; Carolinas Medical Center; St. Peter’s Univ Medical Center; Univ of Cincinnati’s Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center; Univ of Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; and the UTD, Southwestern Medical Center.