Hearing Health in the 114th Congress

By Boswell, Susan | Volta Voices, October-December 2015 | Go to article overview

Hearing Health in the 114th Congress


Boswell, Susan, Volta Voices


The fall 2015 congressional agenda was packed with "must pass" items, including a number of health care issues such as time-sensitive annual appropriations, Medicare and Medicaid legislation, the Affordable Care Act and telepractice. However, bills for major reauthorizations remain unfinished. Within these major priorities are a slate of bills that are part of the AG Bell advocacy action agenda of key priorities for congress as well as federal agencies.

Under the new leadership of AG Bell Public Affairs Council Chair Bruce Goldstein (see sidebar), AG Bell will be working to advance these bills in partnership with other organizations and coalitions and with the support of its members. Below is an update on key initiatives and activities.

Early Hearing Detection and Intervention

Early hearing detection and intervention (EHDI) has been a game-changer for children with hearing loss. EHDI grants to states have significantly increased the number of infants screened for hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). EHDI federal grants have resulted in about 97% of infants being screened for hearing loss within the first month of life, often before they leave the hospital. Although great strides have been made, more work needs to be done to ensure that newborns with hearing loss receive timely and appropriate services.

Just before Congress leftfor its annual August recess vacation, the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (EHDI) reauthorization legislation (H.R. 1344). This legislation would reauthorize the federal portion of this important and highly successful initiative for the next five years.

Representatives Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Lois Capps (D-CA), who are the original sponsors of the legislation, are urging congressional leadership to bring this legislation to a vote in front of the entire House of Representatives. Once EHDI passes the House, it will need to be passed by the U.S. Senate and then be signed by the president to be reauthorized.

Please urge your senators and representatives to reauthorize this bill!

Financial Assistance for Hearing Technology

The AG Bell Family Needs Assessment survey data (www.agbell.orgFamily NeedsAssessment) showed that hearing aid purchases and assistive listening devices, such as FM systems, as well as auditory-verbal/speech-language therapy services were the three items that families rated as being areas posing the most significant financial barriers and where financial assistance would be most valuable.

AG Bell frequently receives calls from adults with hearing loss of all ages who are seeking financial assistance for the purchase of a hearing aid. Currently, there are few resources to which to refer them. AG Bell supports several bills that would make hearing technology and hearing health care more affordable.

The Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit would provide a $500 tax credit per hearing aid available once every five years. The benefits to children in supporting listening and spoken language development are immense and the benefit to seniors in minimizing the psychosocial impacts of untreated hearing loss are critical. The Hearing Aid Tax Credit is currently being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee (H.R. 1822) and the Senate Finance Committee (S. 315).

Similar legislation has been introduced in the past several legislative sessions, but with this legislative session prospects are stronger as tax reform is one of the few issues on which Congress and the White House have expressed hope of reaching bipartisan agreement. The bill's best chance for passage is to be included in a broader tax measure.

The Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act of 2015 (H.R. 1653) would improve access to hearing aids and related examinations by removing the part of the Social Security Act that prevents Medicare from covering hearing aids. …

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