GOVERNMENT RELATIONS ADVOCATING FOR THE HEARING-IMPAIRED ON CAPITOL HILL

Issue

More than 31.5 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. Approximately seven million of those men, women and children use hearing aids, the most common remedy to improve a person’s ability to hear. While many insurance plans offer coverage for vision and dental, most do not provide for the cost of hearing aids, which can range in price from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Association

The Hearing Industries Association (HIA) and its sister organization, the Better Hearing Institute BHI), are two organizations dedicated to advocating on behalf of the millions of Americans who need better hearing healthcare.
These two groups share several goals:

  • To erase the stigma that prevents millions of people from seeking help for their hearing loss.
  • Promote treatment of this national problem.
  • Educate the public on how to prevent hearing loss.

Most importantly, the groups have led a broad coalition effort to provide some financial assistance for people who need hearing aids. Currently, hearing aids are not covered by Medicare or most insurance policies.

Solution

During the course of three strategic board meetings, the Hearing Industries Association discussed how it could best help provide financial assistance for the purchase of hearing aids. The board recognized that any effort likely would be long-term and require human and financial resources. It also examined the industry overall and how (and when) it intersected with government policy. The Board soon concluded that to be successful, it would need to take a proactive approach. It developed a government relations and advocacy program to introduce legislation for a hearing aid tax credit for children and for adults 55 years of age and older.

The plan included a multi-faceted approach which began with a “Hearing on the Hill.” For that May 2007 event, Hearing Industries Association members went to Capitol Hill to meet with legislators and their staffers to brief them on the issue and begin to solicit their support. As part of the event, the group also sponsored hearing screenings to raise awareness for the issue of hearing loss. In conjunction with the BHI, the HIA developed an e-advocacy campaign at www.hearingaidtaxcredit.org to allow supporters to write and e-mail a personalized letter to their Congressional representative. The bill is now cosponsored by 111 Representatives and 13 Senators.

Constituent events are another component of this government relations strategy. Working with Congressional office staff, HIA organizes local events with elected officials in their home districts to provide an opportunity to meet with area
voters who experience hearing loss as well as patient and parent groups. voters who experience hearing loss as well as patient and parent groups.

Also, for the first time in its history, HIA organized a Political Action Committee, Hear PAC, to enable the group to support congressional candidates that champion the legislation. The group surpassed its original fundraising goal and generated even more visibility for the issues at hand.

Results

HIA developed a broad-based coalition including patient groups, parent groups, audiologists, hearing aid dispensers, healthcare organizations and other groups to demonstrate the genuine consumer need for a hearing aid tax credit for children and for adults 55 years of age or older.

Since the bill’s introduction in the 108th Congress, the legislation has had an increasing level of support – and a new champion in the House – Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). While the composition of the congress has changed over the last couple of years, the coalition has attracted many new co-sponsors, thanks to the relationships HIA has cultivated on Capitol Hill.

The legislation faces no real opposition. However, cost will continue to be a primary issue. The November elections brought new leadership to the While House and many new faces to Congress. Until the 111th Congress convenes, HIA will work on its strategy, continue to build its base of support and be a key voice on the issue.
For more information on Bostrom’s government relations capabilities contact: Andy Bopp 202.216.9623.