New York State Hearing Aid Dispenser Advisory Board (HADAB): Testimony: Bringing Transparency to the Hearing Aid Market; November

Testifying to support the inclusion of induction loop information on the bill of sale for hearing aids. Jerry Bergmam, NYS HLAA

Testifying to support the inclusion of induction loop information on the bill of sale for hearing aids.
Jerry Bergmam, NYS HLAA

Hello, my name is Janice Schacter Lintz and I am the Chair of the Hearing Access Program. I am also the mother of a19-year old daughter who is hard of hearing.

We need New Yorkers to become informed consumers about their hearing aids and their features. We need the Hearing Aid Dispenser Advisory Board (HADAB) to:

Ensure that hearing aid features have generic names.

Hearing aids offer a number of features but it is difficult for consumers, audiologists and hearing aid dispensers to compare brands. Manufacturers do not use generic names for features and many manufacturers trademark the names they use. Comparing features is virtually impossible without consistent names.

Users and parents of children with hearing loss are dependent on the audiologist or hearing aid dispenser to provide information, which may present a conflict of interest because the audiologist/hearing aid dispenser:

Does not represent all manufacturers nor have knowledge of all hearing aids on the market.

Audiologists/hearing aid dispensers are presumed to know all the aids on the market but the reality is that that they only dispense a few brands.  The hearing aid mix they offer is based on such concerns such as but not limited to percentage of earnings, incentive pricing, delivery schedule, quality, and customer support.  Some of these concerns, such as percentage of earnings, are not in the best interest of the consumer.

May receive bonuses/equipment based on the volume of hearing aids sold.

Many hearing aid companies provide free equipment or incentives or perks to audiologists/hearing aid dispensers based on their sales volume. This marketing program is now frowned on in the pharmaceutical business and should be eliminated in the hearing aid business as well.

Has a financial incentive to maximize the likelihood of making a sale.

Audiologists/hearing aid dispensers make a substantial profit when they sell hearing aids. Critical information that may obstruct or delay the sale such as the pros and cons of various features may not be disclosed.

The NYS Hearing Aid Dispenser Advisory Committee can bring greater transparency and accountability to the dispensing of hearing aids by standardizing the naming of hearing aid features.

Ensure that hearing aid dispensers inform their patients about the benefits of having a telecoil (also known as T-coil or T-switch) technology in their hearing aids

Hearing aids with a telecoil receive sound directly via magnetic induction from hearing aid compatible phones (all landline phones and select cell phones), induction loop assistive listening systems, or device containing an inductive transducer. The telecoil setting maximizes the customized output of the person’s own hearing aid. The additional benefit is that telecoil users do not need a receiver for induction loop systems.

New York State already has legislation that requires hearing aid dispensers to “instruct new users of hearing aids on basic information about how to use the aid. This training should include, at a minimum, the following: (viii) use of the telecoil-switch.” Arizona and Florida have similar legislation, but only Arizona requires that the “bill of sale shall contain language that verifies that the client has been informed about the telecoil, including benefits such as increased access to telephones, assistive listening devices, its proper use and that the switch is also referred to as a telecoil, T-coil or T-switch.” This requirement ensures that the consumer was advised and provides “teeth” for enforcement. The current New York State law provides no “safety net” to ensure compliance.

Some specious reasons that have been given by hearing aid dispensers for not advising about the telecoil include:

clients will think they are being charged extra for unnecessary options (telecoils are actually quite inexpensive)
the feature is unnecessary (in reality, telecoils facilitate communication on the phone and via assistive technology)
the client’s fingers may not be nimble enough to maneuver the tiny switch. (This is seldom an issue.)
a child may inadvertently switch the aid to the T-setting and not hear. (Today’s children are technologically savvy, and children who receive benefit will want to hear better and will quickly adjust to the settings.)

Legislation should require that the telecoil be demonstrated so consumers understand what they are purchasing or decline knowledgeably if they choose not to have telecoils in their hearing aids. All new cochlear implant devices now have a telecoil. An induction loop should be installed in every HAD’s office to demonstrate the potential benefits of the telecoil.

Arizona supported HAD by developing a free telecoil brochure who can place their own branding on it and hand it out to consumers.

In summary,

1. Regulation of hearing aid feature terminology is critical to enable consumers to be educated and not dependent exclusively on the audiologist/hearing aid dispenser. There is no incentive by the manufacturers or vendors to provide this information. Therefore, HADAC should ensure that the information is made available so that consumers can become better informed and more satisfied with their purchase.

2. New York State legislation should be amended to follow Arizona’s model, which requires that hearing aid bills of sale include language indicating that purchasers were advised of the telecoil option and tested it. Hearing aid dispensers should also be required to demonstrate the T-coil switch by installing an induction loop in their office/store. Brochures should be developed that provide information on the benefits of the T-coil. Hearing aid dispensers should distribute the brochures.

Thank you for your time,

Janice Schacter Lintz, chair, Hearing Access Program
917-975-5642 November 6, 2013