Lift in hearing-aid subsidy welcomed

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 11:40 27/03/2014

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A hike in Accident Compensation Corporation contributions towards the cost of hearing aids will make the technology more accessible for people suffering injury-related hearing loss, an audiologist says.

From July 1, 2014, patients who meet the corporation's criteria can take up the increased subsidy towards the costs of consultations with audiologists and hearing aids.

The maximum subsidy will rise from $1782 to about $3300. It is targeted at people aged over 18 suffering from industrial noise-related hearing loss.

While ACC clients can take advantage of the subsidy immediately, audiologists will have to wait until July 1 to receive backpay for ACC hearing aids installed.

Bay Audiology operations director Daniel Hempstead denied the three-month wait would financially cripple practices.

Blenheim-based practice sees about 200 such cases each year from people working in factories, forestry, farming and viticulture.

Mr Hempstead said the extra funding was a welcome sign after a 2011 clampdown on hearing-aid claimants.

The subsidies would encourage more people to seek help for their hearing loss.

"A lot of people don't do anything about noise-related hearing loss," he said. "We hear stories from 20 to 30 years ago when people were given cottonwool for their ears in a noisy factory. Times have changed, now the first thing a builder will do is put on their ear muffs or little cotton buds to protect their ears."

As part of changes, the 10 funding bands for cash assistance will be replaced by three broader bands. Depending on their band allocation, clients will be able to pick up a hearing aid for free while others will have to top up the subsidy.

"A 28-year-old builder showing signs of noise-related hearing loss due to their job is at the top end of the scale compared with a 78-year-old dairy farmer who shows signs of hearing loss due to their age," Mr Hempstead said.

Audiologists and an advocacy group for the deaf said the reduced number of funding bands would make the process simpler and processing hearing-aid purchases faster. Assessing hearing loss was not an exact science and specialists using the 10-band system could sometimes be inconsistent.

Hearing Association educator Bridget Thompson said the ACC payments were a step in the right direction but she remained unhappy clients still had to prove their hearing loss was above the 6 per cent threshold, which for some individuals could equate to a 25 per cent functional loss.

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- The Marlborough Express

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