This month’s cover story by tax expert Mark Battersby, which begins on page 10, summarizes some of the most important business opportunities from the recent stimulus bills passed by Congress. While it may remain questionable how effective the various Recovery Acts are on stimulating the economy, there is no question that the most important legislation for hearing care is in our own hands. Ultimately, the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Bill, along with your own marketing, are the keys to recovery.

Given the economy, the recent Hearing Industries Association (HIA) membership meeting held in Phoenix in late February wasn’t exactly full of blissful CEOs; however, it is significant that it also was not a gloom-fest. In fact, the 2-day conference, which brought together industry leaders and representatives of national professional organizations and consumer advocacy groups, broadcasted one unanimous and positive consensus: we’ve never had a better chance to pass the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Bill, which will have been introduced to the 111th Congress by the time you read this.

This bill would provide a $500 per hearing aid tax credit once every 5 years for Americans with hearing impairment. It’s a win-win for consumers and businesses alike—almost universally endorsed throughout the field—with the only serious objections being the issue of cost. And, looking at it from a purely monetary standpoint, the bottom line for our industry would be a possible double-digit increase in unit sales.

But the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Bill will not pass on its own; we need to flood Members of Congress with letters about its importance for our patients/clients. In the 110th Congress, the bill was supported by an impressive 112 House members and 13 senators, and importantly nine members of the House Ways & Means Committee and three members of the Senate Finance Committee. If the tax credit is to become a reality, we need everyone related to hearing care to become its advocate. If we can demonstrate a groundswell of support and influence Members of Congress (and the two aforementioned committees specifically), the bill is likely to be included in health care legislation within the next 2 years.

Here’s a short-term battle plan:

  • www.hearingaidtaxcredit.org. In order for the bill to pass, it’s crucial that we get everyone—patients, coworkers, friends, and family—to go to this Web site and take the 5 minutes required to write your Congressional members in support of this bill. The BHI-sponsored Web site generated over 20,000 letters during the 110th Congress. This time, we need 500,000!
  • AAA Convention in April. Although AAA has historically concentrated its efforts on the passage of the Direct Access for Audiology Bill, its annual convention in April presents a unique national forum to advocate for the tax credit. AAA is to be lauded for its support of the bill, and it would be heartening to see the organization throw its full weight behind it at AudiologyNOW in Dallas.
  • Increased marketing and Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM). Marketing statistics show that businesses advertising during recessionary periods not only outperform competing businesses but also emerge in a better position to profit from an improved economy. The reason is simple: when you advertise in a recession, it’s easier to stand out from the pack. In particular, we can make a concerted effort to increase advertising industry-wide during BHSM in May.
  • Summer recess. During the summer, Congressional members go home. We need to visit them. HR offered a series of five podcasts in 2008 on the Hearing Aid Tax Credit (www.hearingreview.com/podcast), and I particularly recommend listening to the two featuring Brenda Battat of Hearing Loss Association of America and Jerry Ruzicka of Starkey Laboratories about approaching and interacting with local legislators.

The first half of 2009 offers a unique time for our industry to shine brightly. We have an unprecedented opportunity to showcase our industry’s new and exciting profile to Members of Congress and consumers: sophisticated technology and high-quality professional care can radically change people’s lives and improve quality of life for the 31.5 million Americans with significant hearing loss. It’s up to us.

Karl Strom
Editor-In-Chief