Coral Gables, Fla — Approximately 75 industry leaders and guests convened at the 2005 Hearing Industries Association (HIA) Annual Meeting in early-March which had as its primary focus the hearing aid tax credit and communicating with consumers.

 HIA Chairman Jerry Ruzicka presented a special award to Executive Director Carole Rogin who celebrated her 25th year at the helm of HIA. Ruzicka was later honored with the HIA Volunteerism Award for his crucial role in the tax credit bill.

The HIA membership endorsed a strategic plan developed by the HIA Board of Directors that commits the organization to actions that will benefit consumers and support dispensing professionals. Passage of the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Assistance Act (HR 414, see March 2005 HR News, p 94), development of a series of industry white papers, and maximization of hearing aid technology through training are key elements of the three-year plan, as well as supporting initiatives of the Better Hearing Institute (BHI).

 Members of the HIA Board of Directors include (l to r): William Lankenau, Siemens Hearing Instruments Inc; Jeff Taylor, Sonion US; Executive Director Carole Rogin; John Zei, Knowles Electronics; Incoming Chairman Randy Raymond, Rayovac Corp; Vice Chairman Cathy Jones, Phonak Inc; Outgoing Chairman Jerry Ruzicka, Starkey Laboratories; Treasurer Gora Ganguli, Gennum Corp (not pictured: Ron Meltsner, Widex Hearing Aid Co; and Mikael Worning, Oticon Inc).

But HIA Outgoing Chairman Jerry Ruzicka minced few words: this year’s number-one initiative is to gain support for the tax credit among members of Congress—particularly the Senate and members of special committees. The HIA Board outlined action steps and developed a member resource kit to encourage grassroots support of the tax credit legislation by manufacturers and allied organizations. According to HIA Executive Director Carole Rogin, “HIA’s goal is to welcome every member of our association to Washington, DC for “Hearing on the Hill” on May 18th, and to set up meetings for them with elected officials with whom they have already visited at home…Our dispensing and consumer allies are doing an excellent job at the grassroots level and, although there are relatively few companies, we employ thousands of people and that translates into votes.”

 Better Hearing Institute Executive Director Sergei Kochkin addressed new initiatives that the BHI is undertaking in 2005, and unveiled to members the new BHI Web site and consumer education brochure.

The BHI also presented an ambitious plan for the year to HIA members, launcing a new Web site (www.betterhearing.org) and its comprehensive new consumer communication program (see February HR, p 16). BHI Executive Director Sergei Kochkin outlined consumer communications projects to be tackled with the assistance of the Institute’s new public relations firm, Strategy XXI, New York City, as well as a range of special projects for which BHI will seek special funding. Kochkin announced at the meeting that MarkeTrak VII, funded for BHI by Knowles Electronics Inc, would be issued in the near future. Other initiatives included a PR and marketing communications program, the enlistment of celebrities who have overcome hearing loss (BHI is actively seeking celebrity spokespersons), and several new outreach programs that target such entities as pharmacies and places of worship (Kochkin says that 86% of hearing aid wearers believe that it’s important to hear better in church).

 HIA Director of Government Relations Andrew Bopp provided members with a report on Hearing Aid Tax Credit legislation.

Tax Credit Bill and Positioning Hearing Care for Baby Boomers
During the meeting’s afternoon Business Session, HIA Director of Government Relations Andy Bopp provided detailed information on the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Assistance Act (HR 414) which was reintroduced on January 26th by Congressman Jim Ryun (R-KS). Momentum for HR 414 is growing, and by the time of the HIA meeting, there were already a total of 32 co-sponsors. The reintroduced bill is identical to last session’s HR 3103, also authored by Congressman Ryun, and would provide $500 ($1000 for binaural fittings) towards the purchase of a hearing aid, once every 5 years, for individuals under the age of 18 or for those ages 55 and older, or those purchasing a hearing aid for someone under 18.

An informal “Hearing Aid Tax Credit Coalition”— composed of the major hearing industry organizations, including HIA, American Academy of Audiology (AAA), American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), International Hearing Society (IHS), Deaf and Hard of Hearing Alliance (DHHA), and Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH)—has been setting up meetings with both House and Senate offices to gain support for the new bill. Currently, the coalition’s main focus has been gaining Senate support for the issue as Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) prepares to reintroduce a companion bill later this spring. An additional boost to the legislation may come as both AAA and SHHH host their annual conventions in Washington, DC.

A marketing consultant, Don Neal, of Marsh Affinity Group Services, Washington, DC, presented ideas on repositioning hearing health care products in anticipation of the Baby Boomer generation. “Most Baby Boomers believe that old age starts at 79,” says Neal. “But actuarial tables tell us that men die at 78.” His point: our audience is changing and they do not think of themselves as old. “There is a great need to disconnect hearing aids and age,” Neal contends. “Without this, it’s hard to believe that there can be geometric growth…for the industry.” He also endorsed the concept of changing the industry relative to positioning. Neal says that the industry should take care to consider all the facets of a consumer’s “purchasing life cycle,” including awareness of hearing loss, interest in gathering information, consideration of the supplied data, purchase and trial of the product, and repurchase of hearing aids. “[You need to] define and agree on what ‘value’ is defined as by the consumer,” says Neal.

Elections and Awards
HIA elections were held during the meeting. Randy Raymond, Rayovac Corp, was elected as the new HIA Chairman. Cathy Jones, Phonak, was elected vice chair, and Gora Ganguli, Gennum Corp, was re-elected as Secretary/Treasurer. Additionally, directors who were re-elected to the board included Ganguli; Mikael Worning, Oticon; William Lankenau, Siemens Hearing Instruments; and Ron Meltsner, Widex.

 Lucille Beck, director of the VA Audiology Division, provided an update of VA dispensing activities.

Carole Rogin, who continues as chief staff executive, was honored by HIA at the meeting for her 25 years of service to the Association. “HIA and the hearing industry has been a cornerstone of my career,” says Rogin. “It has been, and continues to be, a very meaningful and wonderful aspect of my life.” HIA also awarded its “Volunteerism Award” to Jerry Ruzicka, chairman of HIA, and president of Starkey Laboratories, for his leadership in building a political action component for HIA and his vision in crafting a strategic plan for the Association over the past 3 years. Ruzicka was also honored at the meeting as the outgoing HIA Chairman.

This year’s guests included Jesper Mailind, chairman of the European Hearing Instruments Manufacturers’ Assn (EHIMA) and CEO of GN ReSound; Brad Stach, president of AAA; Harlan Cato and Cindy Helms, president and executive director of the IHS; Larry Higdon, Vic Gladstone, and Roberta Aungst, executives of ASHA; and Craig Johnson, president of the Academy of Dispensing Audiologists (ADA). New corporate representatives at this year’s meeting included Robert Tong of AMI Semiconductor Canada Co (formerly the DSPfactory) and Susan Whichard, InSound Medical Inc.