Hearing Industries Association Helps Raise Awareness for Hearing Health

Hearing loss affects three out of every 1,000 infants in the U.S. Ten million older adults have age-related hearing loss. Yet 68 percent of Americans with hearing loss cite financial constraints as a key reason they do not use hearing aids. In fact, hearing aids are often cited as the third largest lifetime expense for individuals – after a mortgage and a car.

To help raise awareness for hearing loss and the lack of financial assistance (such as insurance, Medicare, etc.) available to children and adults, the Hearing Industries Association (HIA), which represents hearing aid manufacturers, participates in a broad coalition of organizations, health care providers and individuals to focus Congressional attention on the issue.

HIA’s ongoing government relations initiatives were critical to the inclusion of a provision in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) that exempts hearing aids from the medical device tax written into the law. The exemption will save approximately $43 million annually for the U.S. hearing aid industry, hearing health professionals and people with hearing loss. And the 2.3% excise tax on all medical devices except hearing aids, eyeglasses, contacts and devices sold at retail for individual use is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2013

While the hearing health coalition worked persistently on this effort, the exemption language was a last minute addition. In fact, the provision exempting hearing aids from the tax was added in the final days before the bill’s passage, while the FDA Class I medical device exemption (which would have also exempted hearing aids) was dropped from the bill in the final hours of leadership negotiations. Numerous Congressional champions worked to exclude hearing aids from the tax, including every Representative who attended an HIA-sponsored constituent event in support of the hearing aid tax credit held by people with hearing loss in their home districts in previous years.

What were HIA’s keys to its government relations success? In addition to articulating a clear point of view, maintaining a willingness to compromise and being sensitive to the timing of events and announcements:

Persistence. HIA has established and maintained an ongoing presence on Capitol Hill – both as part of a coalition and as an individual organization representing hearing aid manufacturers. It has worked diligently to identify and support “hearing champions” – Senators and Representatives who champion hearing health issues.

Play Offense and Defense. HIA has long and actively supported legislation that would implement a hearing aid tax credit for people with hearing loss who need hearing aids. This bi-partisan legislation was not considered as part of the ACA; however, the broad coalition developed to support the tax credit was able to quickly adapt to assist Congressional champions who insured that the tax on medical devices did not morph into a tax on hearing aids. It would have been quite difficult to jump start an effort of this magnitude in the absence of previous related efforts.

Get in Early. HIA and its coalition partners worked with House and Senate staff early in the process when the ACA was being drafted. Although an original legislative draft is nearly always amended, often significantly, it remains important to address issues early in the process.

Join a Coalition. HIA’s efforts were successful in part because of all of the ongoing “groundwork” to build a diverse coalition of groups representing people with hearing loss, parents of children with hearing loss, hearing health professionals and anyone else interested in the issue. There were no opponents arguing that the ACA should tax hearing aids, although there were powerful groups lobbying against the exemption of all Class I medical devices from the device tax.

What’s next for HIA?

The group continues to support passage of the hearing aid tax credit (HR1479 and S905 in the 112th Congress). Starting in 2012, HIA has also helped to reorganize the Friends of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus to provide a platform for Congressional hearing champions to examine issues of hearing loss on a regular basis at House luncheons, hearing screening events and receptions.

While HIA will remain vigilant as healthcare reform is enacted and as the Supreme Court addresses the bill’s Constitutionality, the organization will continue with its two primary initiatives: Government Relations and Statistical Analysis of Hearing Aid Sales. The HIA government relations team will continue to work with Congressional champions while also working with the Food and Drug Administration on several issues of great significance to the hearing aid industry. In addition, HIA will continue to work in various states as they consider legislation that would mandate that insurance policies cover hearing aids or that would place restrictions on the sale of medical devices such as hearing aids.