International Perspectives on Hearing Care

By Anthony, Christine | Volta Voices, March/April 2007 | Go to article overview

International Perspectives on Hearing Care


Anthony, Christine, Volta Voices


A hundred years ago, travel, commerce and life for many people were contained to a small geographic area.

Today, international commerce and technology bring us closer together and people can no longer count on staying in one location or even in one country. Given this changing environment, how do people with hearing loss ensure that their health care needs are met when living or traveling for extended periods in other countries? We recently posed this question to members of AG Bell's Deaf and Hard of Hearing section (DHHS) and their testimonies suggest that, with a little extra effort, individuals with hearing loss can thrive no matter where in the world they are.

The United States

Thirty-seven states plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have enacted legislation mandating newborn hearing screening legislation, and at least 90 percent of newborns are now being screened. In addition, 24 states require hospitals to report screening data to the state health department. Despite these advances, a National Institutes of Health study published in 2003 showed that half of all children who were referred for follow-up never received it. In 2006, Congressman James Walsh (R-NY) introduced legislation to amend the Public Health Service Act to ensure adequate follow-up and family support for newborns who fail the initial hearing screening. Hearing health organizations and consumer advocacy groups currently are working to reintroduce the legislation, which was not enacted, in 2007.

Despite the advantages newborn hearing screening has created for children, a major challenge affecting both children and adults with hearing loss is health insurance coverage. Many Americans receive insurance coverage through private plans negotiated by their employers, so benefits vary greatly. For example, some insurance plans categorize hearing aids as personal devices used for comfort or convenience, not as prosthetic devices used to correct a medical issue. Also, many private plans follow guidelines for the government-funded Medicare program for individuals over age 65 and do not cover hearing aids or related tests.

Alternatively, Medicaid law designed to support low-income children and families requires states to provide hearing screenings, as well as assessment of communication skills and language development. To help ensure that more individuals have access to hearing aids, several advocacy groups including AG Bell have joined together to support the Hearing Aid Ta Credit Act, which would provide a tax credit of $500 for families purchasing hearing aids for their children, as well as for adults ages 55 and older.

Making the Move

Many DHHSers are familiar with the enefits and challenges associated with living in the United States, but how does one prepare to live in another country? When planning a move to Paris to work at the Pasteur Institute, Angela Foreman, a molecular biologist, started by making sure her vaccinations were current and purchasing adequate supplies of both over-the-counter and prescription medications. She also brought a stock of batteries for her cochlear implant, enough to last until friends and family came to visit with fresh supplies.

In addition, Foreman asked her audiologist to suggest French colleagues who could help her with any problems with her cochlear implant. She also learned that pharmacists could help with basic health issues such as the flu or other common ailments. "In the European Union, pharmacies are easily identified by the blue and green "plus" sign in front, where common over-the-counter medications and antibiotics, can be found," said Foreman. "I'd describe my symptoms to the pharmacist who would suggest a remedy, and I'd be back on my feet in no time."

One other strategy Foreman used was talking to coworkers, because they knew the country's system and could provide additional information that was not readily apparent to her.

Around the Globe

In other parts of the world, DHHSers' experiences with health care systems are as varied as the countries in which they live. …

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