Advocacy in Action Jan/Feb 2013

Advancing Policy Initiatives

By Susan Boswell

AG Bell advocates on your behalf through participation in a number of coalitions, including the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Alliance (DHHA), Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Action Network (DHHCAN), Joint Committee on Infant Hearing (JCIH), and Council on the Education of the Deaf (CED). The AG Bell Public Affairs Council sets advocacy priorities and guides AG Bell’s public policy efforts. AG Bell has been active over the past year in advocating on a number of public policy issues to improve reimbursement and access to hearing technology, increase the effectiveness of relay services, and advocate for job opportunities for AG Bell members. The following are just some of the recent initiatives undertaken.

Hearing Health Forum and Reception

Rep Tom Latham and Elisa CimentoAG Bell participated in the Hearing Health Forum and Reception on Capitol Hill at the Rayburn House Office Building on Feb. 28, 2013 as part of a coalition of 16 organizations that make up the Friends of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus. AG Bell was joined by Rachel Dubin, a member of the AG Bell Public Affairs Council who represents adults who are deaf and hard of hearing.  Honorary co-hosts included Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa, who presented a “HearStrong Champion Certificate” to Elisa Cimento, a former AG Bell LOFT participant and an intern for the Hearing Industries Association for her outstanding dedication to hearing health issues. The forum was designed to raise awareness of hearing loss and hearing health issues among members of congress and their staff. The event featured hearing screenings by a hearing health professional, earbud noise testing with “Bud” a sound-level dummy who can help listeners determine whether they the volume is set too high for safety on a personal music player. Participants also had the opportunity to talk to hearing professionals and to learn about listening and spoken language and AG Bell resources on the Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center.

Truck Drivers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing Granted Exemptions

In an historic victory, The U.S. Depart of Transportation announced that drivers who are deaf and hard of hearing can operate commercial motor vehicles. After decades of prohibition, the DOT granted exemptions from the hearing standard for 40 applicants who were seeking commercial drivers’ licenses. AG Bell – and 570 other organizations and individuals – supported the efforts of the National Association of the Deaf to gain exemptions, citing research that demonstrated that drivers who are deaf and hard of hearing are just as safe as drivers with typical hearing. Read the article in Trucking Info.

Joint Committee Position Statement Development Underway

The Joint Committee on Infant Hearing (JCIH) held a retreat in Aurora, Colo., on August 17 and 18 at the Marion Downs Hearing Center. JCIH is composed of representatives from audiology, otolaryngology, pediatric medicine, education of the deaf, speech-language pathology and consumers. The Committee’s primary activity has been publication of position statements that guide U.S. and international policy and best practices in early identification and appropriate intervention for infants and young children who have or are suspected of having hearing loss. AG Bell has been a member of JCIH since 2005 and is represented by Carianne Muse, an AG Bell member and a parent to two children, one of whom uses bilateral cochlear implants, and Judy Harrison, AG Bell director of programs. The Committee tackled a full agenda and began work on its next position statement; No release date has been decided.

“I am both honored and humbled by being a part of JCIH as the parent representative from AG Bell,” stated Muse. She continued, “I am particularly excited about actively engaging in the early intervention discussions because I have been living the early intervention process while we have been writing about it. I hope that my experiences with my daughter over the past 3 years, and the experiences of other families I know, can help add richness to the publications we are producing.” To learn more about JCIH and its position statements, visit www.jcih.org/posstatemts.htm.

Reimbursement for Implant Technologies

AG Bell has taken steps to advocate for increased reimbursement for cochlear implants and bone-anchored implants, including the BAHA system, for children and adults who are covered under Medicare. Access to these technologies is critical for candidates who use listening and spoken language. Advocacy for reimbursement under Medicare is critical for all candidates—both Medicare beneficiaries and those covered under other insurance plans—because Medicare rates and coverage policies often influence insurance coverage by private insurers.

AG Bell recently submitted letters to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which sets payment rates for the procedures. AG Bell commended CMS for its proposed increase for cochlear implants of 6.5%-6.6%, depending on where the procedure is performed. This amount covers the cochlear implant device, the procedure cost as well as other related costs. This increased payment is a step in the right direction, but this increase does not reflect the actual cost of the intervention. For bone-anchored implants, AG Bell advocated to avert a proposed reduction of 3.8%-5.7% in payment for the BAHA system and to review potential inaccuracies in its data on which payment rates are based. 

Video Relay Service Advocacy

In comments related to rulemaking by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), AG Bell has advocated for improvements to video relay service, a type of relay service offered through statewide relay systems to allow consumers to communicate through web-based videoconferencing. AG Bell members need access to this vital relay service because they often speechread interpreters during VRS relay calls, making access to functionally equivalent calls crucial. In conjunction with DHHCAN, TDI, NAD, ALDA, California Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, American Society of Deaf Children, National Black Deaf Advocates, Cerebral Palsy and Deaf Organization and others, AG Bell supported improved services by increasing the speed of answer for calls and allowing consumers to be matched with a communications assistant that meets their needs, among other issues.

Hearing Aid Coverage in Affordable Care Act

AG Bell signed on with 20 other national organizations representing individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing to advocate for the coverage of hearing aids and related services in the Essential Health Benefits (EHB) Bulletin as part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA). Currently, the Bulletin fails to provide coverage for rehabilitative devices, like hearing aids, despite the specific language of the law and does not take into consideration the healthcare needs of individuals with disabilities. AG Bell members rely on access to hearing technology in all major health care reform legislation for listening and spoken language.

Support for Truck Drivers who are Deaf

In coalition with 35 other national and state disability organizations, individuals and coalitions, AG Bell signed on to a letter from the National Association of the Deaf to advocate for exemption for the hearing requirements in the Federal Motor Carrier’s Safety Administration (FMCA) for truck drivers who are deaf and hard of hearing. The hearing requirement has no evidentiary support and no basis in research or practice. Furthermore, the validity of the hearing requirement has been called into question by the FMCSA’s own study of the issue and by the safe driving records of the 45 experienced drivers now seeking exemptions. The letter advocated for a full, unqualified exemption for the applicants and a removal of the hearing requirement altogether.

Health Plan Coverage in Utah

AG Bell advocated for coverage of bone-anchored implants as part of Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare’s medical policy. Intermountain does not provide coverage for this important auditory intervention for children and adults with appropriate indications. SelectHealth (Intermountain’s health insurance program) is one of the few large carriers in the United States that does not include coverage for this medical device as part of a typical health insurance policy. Access to this auditory intervention is critical for children and adults in Utah. For individuals who are candidates for this implant, there is no other intervention that allows auditory access.

Meet the AG Bell Public Affairs Council

The Public Affairs Council (PAC) directs the advocacy work of the association by establishing public affairs issue priorities, reviewing letters for sign on, and developing position statements on key issues. PAC members include: John Stanton (chair), Joni Alberg, Rachel Arfa, Bill Corwin, Ben Dubin, Rachel Dubin, Bruce Goldstein, Jack Roush, and Jay Wyant.

Source: Volta Voices, January/February 2013