May 24, 2007

The biennial “Hearing on the Hill” event, which coincides with each new US Congress, was May 16 at the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill. Organized by the Hearing Industries Association (HIA)—with the assistance of the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Coalition which is composed of most of the major hearing healthcare organizations—the event has drawn the attention of senators, representatives, House and Senate staff, and agency staff to the importance of hearing healthcare for over a decade.

This year’s HOTH included 10-minute hearing screenings for Members of Congress and their staff, as well as a reception at the Library of Congress. Additionally, industry and professionals visited their elected officials, urging them to support the bipartisan Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act.

During the event, Reps Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich) reintroduced  The Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act (HR2329). The Act will provide a tax credit, once every 5 years, of up to $500 toward the purchase of a hearing aid. The tax credit will be available to individuals age 55 or older and dependents of taxpayers. Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn), who has been a champion of hearing healthcare legislation and sponsored the tax credit bill in the Senate during the last Congress, also supported the event.

Since its introduction, the tax credit bill has been rapidly gaining steam. During the 108th Congress, the bill (HR3103) attracted 68 supporters, two of whom were on the influential House Ways and Means Committee. However, in the last 109th Congress, the bill (HR414) drew 112 co-sponsors. In the Senate of the last Congress, 17 senators signed onto the legislation, and 3 were on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Therefore, even in an era when “fiscal restraint” is a buzzword, the latest version of the bill (HR 2329) is expected to draw on a wide base of bipartisan support.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), Rockville, Md, congratulated Reps McCarthy and Ehlers for introducing the bill. “ASHA has been actively advocating for this bill,” says ASHA President Noma Anderson, PhD. “Financial constraints are cited as a core reason many Americans do not use hearing aids. Hearing aids are currently not covered under Medicare, or under the vast majority of state mandated benefits. This bill will help those affected come closer to being able to purchase these much-needed devices.” ASHA is a member of the Hearing Aid Tax Coalition, a group of organizations dedicated to hearing health and who are actively advocating for this bill.

Approximately 31.5 million people in the United States have significant hearing loss, and 10 million older Americans have age-related hearing loss. However, 72% of the hearing aids distributed involve no third-party payment, and there is no Medicare coverage for the hearing aids themselves. According to HR, the average cost of a hearing aid in 2005 (not including free or discounted hearing aids or VA dispensing) was $1904.

A study by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA), which was published in the January 2000 Hearing Review, shows that left untreated, hearing loss often results in distorted communication, isolation, withdrawal, depression, anger, severely reduced overall psychological health. In addition, untreated hearing loss has been shown to adversely affect income per household by up to $12,000 per year depending on the severity of the loss.

Furthermore, this bill will help children, a group that often goes undiagnosed. Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent birth defects in the United States, affecting 2 to 3 infants per 1,000 births. More than one million children under age 18 have hearing loss, according to the Better Hearing Institute. Children can be fitted with hearing aids soon after birth. For those who do not receive early intervention, overall lifetime costs for special education, lost wages, and health complications are close to $1 million each.

To support the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Act, visit