As mentioned in this column last month, the Hearing Aid Tax Credit (HR 1646) was reintroduced in a bipartisan bill in March by Representatives Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Vern Ehlers (R-Mich) and a record number of original co-sponsors, including eight members of the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill, with the addition of a $200,000/year income eligibility cap, is essentially unchanged from legislation in the 110th Congress that attracted 112 co-sponsors.
The Hearing Aid Tax Credit would provide assistance to many of the 32 million people who need hearing aids to treat their hearing loss. Medicare expressly excludes coverage of hearing aids, as do most private insurance policies, and as a result, cost is cited as a prohibitive factor by two-thirds of the people who do not treat their hearing loss. If enacted, the bill would provide a $500 tax credit per hearing aid for children and people who are 55 and older.
The bill is supported by almost every hearing-related organization, including AG Bell, Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), American Academy of Audiology (AAA), American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), International Hearing Society (IHS), and the Hearing Industries Association (HIA).
Last month, I wrote about how economic stimulus and recovery depends not on what our government does for us, but what we do relative to strong practice/office marketing, as well as our support for this bill—legislation that could very well lead to double-digit market gains. The first step is to e-mail your Congressional representatives in support of HR 1646 by logging onto www.hearingaidtaxcredit.org. It takes less than 5 minutes to send your e-mail, and it will greatly improve your patients/clients’ prospects for choosing appropriate amplification.
New Research. In our January 29 HR Science & Technology Thursday Podcast (www.hearingreview.com/sciencetech), I interviewed Rick Friedman, MD, PhD, of the House Ear Institute about the largest-ever genome-wide study for age-related hearing problems, which resulted in the discovery of several genes associated with hearing loss. One of these genes, GRM7, is associated with susceptibility to glutamate excitotoxicity. It’s the overexpression of glutamate that causes damage to the inner and outer hair cells, potentially leading to presbycusis. Dr Friedman predicts that new diagnostic and preventative tools, as well as pharmaceutical treatments, will emerge from this research.
The March 26 edition of our weekly e-newsletter, The Insider, carried an NIDCD report about Richard Chadwick, PhD, and Nuria Gavara, PhD, who analyzed the stiffness of the tectorial membrane and how it might affect a hair cell’s ability to convert sound vibrations into an electrical signal. What they found was that each collagen fiber is paired to a single column of outer hair cells. When sound vibrations cause one hair cell to move, its associated fiber moves all three hair cell bundles in the same column, amplifying the signal. The distance varies between the individual fibers along the cochlea, with fibers located closer together in the higher frequencies than in the lower frequencies. The larger the gap, the better the ear can distinguish between sounds of differing frequencies, since the movement of one fiber is less likely to cause a neighboring fiber—and its associated hair cells—to move. This helps explain why we’re better at distinguishing between adjacent pitches in the low-frequency range than in the high-frequency range.
I also want to point your attention to the extremely interesting research summarized here about how brain plasticity is actually a double-edged sword. Researchers have found that areas of the brain formerly dedicated to the sense of hearing can be replaced by the sense of touch after the onset of hearing loss. This lends new veracity to the “use it or lose it” philosophy of applying amplification as early as possible in the “hearing loss cycle,” and it serves as a warning to those who would wait 7-10 years before addressing their hearing problem.
May is Better Hearing & Speech Month. Finally, a reminder that May is the month when hearing health care can shout out our message in a unified voice: “Appropriate hearing care improves quality of life, so get your hearing tested today!”