Hearing aid move 'mishandled'

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014

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Advocates for the hearing-impaired and Deaf say ACC and the Government have mishandled an announcement of extra funding for hearing aids.

The delay between the announcement and the start of funding was putting audiology clinics at risk and encouraging many people to wait up to four more months for much-needed aids.

The change, that will lift the maximum subsidy from $1782 to about $3300, was announced this month but the new payments won't begin until July 1.

Independent audiologists say the delay has hit them hard, with clients returning aids supplied on trial.

They say they are honour-bound to tell clients that if they wait they could be $1500 better off, but that meant business had dried up.

National Foundation for the Deaf chief executive Louise Carroll said the extra funding was welcome, but the process was botched.

It would have been better to wait, perhaps until the May Budget, to announce the increase.

Now the foundation was ethically obliged to tell its members they would be better off waiting.

"We should and we are. To do otherwise would be reprehensible," she said.

They would be likely to wait another four months, even though they could benefit from the aids now.

"There needed to be a bit of forethought on the impact of what they have done," Carroll said.

"For four months there will more than likely be a significant downturn in business for small audiologist[practices] and for the larger ones as well."

Audiologist Jeanine Doherty from Hearing Excellence, a small Christchurch clinic, said the extra funding was a partial relaxation of the 2011 clampdown on hearing-loss claimants.

"In that sense it's very welcome," she said.

But she too felt ethically and morally bound to tell ACC patients that if they waited to July 1 they could get up to $1500 more funding.

That was a lot of money for people in east Christchurch, where her clinic was based, with many already stressed and under financial strain from the earthquake.

"That effectively means no new aid-fitting claimants will want to see us for four months ... and all the cases under way are now effectively on hold."

It would cripple small independent NZ-owned clinics, she said.

Doherty, a past president of the NZ Audiological Society, said the relationship between ACC and the profession had deteriorated over recent years.

Labour's ACC spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said the corporation and its minister, Judith Collins, were warned during consultation that waiting four months between the announcement and implementation would cause havoc for providers.

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"They didn't listen," he said.

"They were more interested in getting a good story out than making sure the process went smoothly for the people affected."

Collins should tell ACC to implement the funding changes immediately.

ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville said the extra funding would double ACC's spending on hearing loss from about $20 million a year to $40m, and help many claimants.

Collins said July was the that earliest regulation amendments, and any changes to ACC's IT systems, could be implemented.

"I would also note that ACC and the Ministry of Health consulted extensively with the hearing sector on these changes and we understand the sector is very supportive of the changes," she said.

- Fairfax Media

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