Posted: October 14, 2008
Letter to the Candidates
Senator John McCain Senator Barack Obama
Governor Sarah Palin Senator Joseph Biden
c/o John McCain 2008 c/o Obama for America
P.O. Box 16118 P.O. Box 8102
Arlington, VA 22215 Chicago, IL 60680
Dear Senator McCain and Senator Obama, Senator Biden and Governor Palin:
I write to you as the presidential and vice presidential candidates of your respective parties to ask you to recognize hearing loss as a serious national health problem and to include treatment for it in your proposed healthcare reform platforms.
During the 2008 presidential and vice presidential debates, candidates for both parties expressed a desire to understand and serve the needs of real Americans, drawing a visual image of families sitting around the kitchen table to discuss and deal with problems. But there is an important element missing from that picture: millions of the participants may not be able to hear what is being said.
According to figures from the Better Hearing Institute and the Hearing Industries Association, hearing loss affects an estimated 31.5 million Americans and numbers are expected to rise dramatically as the baby boomer population ages and the younger population misuses personal communication devices. An article in the July 28, 2008 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine said the numbers could be even higher, estimating hearing loss could be affecting as many as 55 million people. The article noted that hearing loss can be a disabling condition affecting verbal language processing and limiting communication and social connectivity. "Such communication difficulties negatively affect work productivity, health-related quality of life and cognitive and emotional status. These disabilities impede healthcare access and use, with possible adverse consequences to health and survival," the authors wrote.
Hearing aids could help approximately 95 percent of those experiencing hearing loss, but only about 22 percent use them. The rest fall through the cracks in our healthcare system because most existing insurance programs, including Medicare, exclude coverage of hearing aids. Nearly two out of three adults with hearing loss cite financial constraints as the main reason they don't wear hearing aids, and they desperately need your help.
You can help them at both legislative and executive levels. The Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act is currently before Congress as HR2329 and S1410. If enacted, the bills would provide a tax credit of $500 per hearing aid, available once every 5 years, for hearing aids purchased for dependents and seniors aged 55 and older. Senators, please add your name to the list of bipartisan supporters for this important legislation, and please also ask your Congressional peers for their support.
Whatever your title after the 2008 election, you will all be national leaders who can put hearing loss on the agenda for healthcare reform. When you do, please don't fall for the insurance industry's tired excuse that hearing aids are expensive. Corrective measures for dental and vision problems are also expensive, yet the insurance industry has been able find ways to cover them. Hearing loss is estimated to be the third most chronic condition in America after heart disease and arthritis. We can't continue to ignore treatment for it just because the solution is difficult or will be expensive.
We also can't afford to lose our ability to hear, because it is the basis of our ability to communicate; to illustrate, I ask you to imagine someone important to you-a child, a grandparent, a spouse, a loved one. Now imagine that person stepping into the street in front of a speeding car. How important is it for them to hear you yell, "Stop!"?
Please, on behalf of that person, recognize hearing loss as a major disability and demand the legislative, tax and insurance reforms that will get help to the millions who also wouldn't have heard you because they can't afford hearing aids.
Judith Hague Biederman
United States citizen
Editor, ADVANCE for Audiologists