Congress Considers Hearing Aid Tax Credits While States Move to Include Hearing Aids in Programs
Washington, DC — The proposed Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act (HR 3103) continues to garner support in Congress, and now has 17 bipartisan cosponsors, which represents a significant achievement for the Hearing Industries Assn. (HIA), American Academy of Audiology (AAA), International Hearing Society (IHS), Academy of Dispensing Audiologists (ADA), Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH), Deafness Research Foundation (DRF) and other organizations supporting the bill. The previous bill (HR 943), which was introduced in September by Representative Jim Ryun (KS-R), called for a tax credit of up to $500 toward the purchase of a hearing aid every 5 years for those over age 65. The new version of the bill (HR 3103) makes the tax credit available to anyone age 55 or older, and extends the credit to $500 per hearing aid in the case of binaural applications, as well as makes the credit available to dependents within a family.

Although HR 3103 is thought of as a relatively “small bill” among the 3,250 bills introduced in the House of Representatives to date, the number of co-sponsors attests to both the success of the above organizations in gaining support for the initiative and the level of interest by some members of Congress. Many of the above organizations are asking their members to contact their state representatives and let them know that such a bill would be extremely beneficial for those individuals with hearing loss.

In related news, HIA reports that Massachusetts will hold hearings on two state bills that would provide hearing aid coverage and hearing-related services to minors. Massachusetts Senate Bill 852 provides two hearing aids every 3 years upon a physician’s written request for those 18 years and younger whose guardians are either active or retired employees of the state. Accompanying Senate Bill 852 is a bill that provides for competency in sign-language for teachers of students who are either deaf or hard of hearing, and also provides for funding and the creation of an advisory council on the education of children who are deaf and or hard of hearing.

Texas and California have also been amending rules and legislation that affect their state Medicaid systems, and include additional hearing aid benefits for Medicaid program recipients. New hearing aid benefits were included in California House Bill 183, but the bill was vetoed by then-governor Gray Davis in the wake of the state’s budget crisis. The bill would have given Medicaid coverage to replace hearing aids that were lost or damaged. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has issued regulations that went into effect September 1 specifying coverage under the Texas Medicaid system. Medicaid coverage now specifically includes physician and audiologist examinations and home visits for hearing evaluations. The coverage pertains to state-licensed audiologists who wish to become providers in the program.

At least a dozen states introduced bills and revisions in 2003 that call for mandatory insurance coverage of hearing aids and related services. While most of these related to the coverage of children with hearing loss, a number of states (eg, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Connecticut, and New York) included hearing-impaired adults in the legislation.


Pietranton to Head ASHA
Washington, DC — The American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has named Arlene Pietranton, PhD, as its new executive director. Pietranton begins her new position January 1, and is currently serving as ASHA’s chief staff officer for Speech Language Pathology. Prior to her work at ASHA, she was director for Speech-Language-Pathology at George Washington University.

Pietranton is only the third executive director in ASHA’s 78-year history. She succeeds Frederick T. Spahr, PhD, who served ASHA for 24 years as executive director and announced his decision to retire in 2002. Under his leadership, ASHA went from a membership of 35,000 in 1980 to over 108,000 today.


Sight & Hearing Association Names Noisiest Toys for Holiday Season
Washington, DC — Tired of the kids making all that racket? Well, there may be good reason for concern. The annual “Noisy Toys” list from the Sight & Hearing Association, St Paul, Minn, features 11 toys that top the 90 dB level, and makes it abundantly clear that it would be easy to give a child a very noisy toy. Here is this year’s list, along with the decibel levels at distances of 0 inches and 12 inches:

Toy

dB @ 0” dB @ 12”
Barney “Songs” 115 87
Home Depot Workman’s Screwdriver 112 96
See ‘N Say Barnyard Banjo 110 92
Fun Years Music Sing-A-Long Electronic Guitar 109 94
Kool toyz Talk ‘N Learn Keyboard 107 91
Light and Sound Lawn Mower Power Tool 107 87
The Wiggles Musical Guitar 107 91
Barney Bend-a-Tune Trumpet 104 80
Leap Frog Alphabet Pal 102 84
Light ‘N Sound Popping Piano 99 88
Little People Mixie the Cement Truck 98 79

The “recommended age group” for the toys ranged from 1-5 years old.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota tested a variety of toys off the shelf to come up with the list. According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, some of the toys’ sound levels could lead to a risk of hearing damage in less than 15 minutes. Currently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission does not have regulations that address the loudness of toys. Another regulatory agency, the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), has recognized that noise is a problem and has proposed new standards that address the sound levels of toys. However, those standards—which have yet to be adopted—propose that a hand-held/table-top crib toy not exceed 90 dB at 25 cm. Compliance with this standard is voluntary.

“I was so surprised by these results,” says Seth Janus, MD, and otolaryngologist and resident at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Otolaryngology who tested the toys. “All these toys are meant for young kids, and they are incredibly loud. It is well known that loud noise exposure is harmful, and results in hearing loss. It is even more worrisome when young children are exposed to loud noise because the damage is cumulative and irreversible.” Because a child’s arm span is shorter, toys are often potentially more dangerous when held by them.

For more information, contact the Sight & Hearing Association at (800) 992-0424.