WASHINGTON, DC—When the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) holds both its biennial Hearing on the Hill and its annual meeting here this week, the trade association will be focused on passage of the Hearing Aid Tax Credit bill (S. 315).
Although similar legislation introduced in the past several sessions of Congress has never been enacted despite broad support from hearing health providers and hard-of-hearing consumers, the prospects for passage this year look better than ever before, says Andy Bopp, HIA’s executive director and long-time director of government relations.
To be sure, the odds against any of the thousands of bills introduced each year becoming law are high. However, Bopp cites a couple of reasons why 2015 could be the year that Congress finally provides a $500 tax credit (per hearing aid) to people who purchase hearing aids.
One factor that may work in S. 315’s favor, says Bopp, is that tax reform is one of the few issues on which Congress and the White House have expressed hope of reaching a bipartisan agreement (unlike the Affordable Care Act). Advocates for the hearing aid tax credit (HATC) bill have long understood that its best chance for passage is to be included in a broader tax measure, since, by itself, the bill doesn’t attract much attention in Washington.
“This year,” Bopp told HearingHealthMatters.org, “if Congress does anything big on tax reform, the tax credit bill would have a good chance.”
One reason for that, says Bopp, is that the two senators who introduced the bill on January 29, Republican Dean Heller of Nevada and Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both serve on the Senate Finance Committee, which will play a major role in shaping any tax reform legislation.
Bopp is also hopeful that Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, would support the HATC. His committee will play a crucial role in tax reform efforts in the House of Representatives.
A BUSY WEEK ON THE HILL
Executives of HIA member companies will spend this Thursday, March 5, visiting the offices of their Representatives and Senators, explaining to them and their staff why the hearing aid tax credit bill is so important to their constituents.
They will point out that Medicare expressly excludes coverage of hearing aids, as do most private insurance policies. That largely explains why two-thirds of the hard-of-hearing people who don’t own hearing aids cite cost as a prohibitive factor. Advocates for S. 315 will say that creating a $1000 tax credit for a binaural fitting would make hearing aids affordable for many people whose hearing loss now goes untreated.
HIA’s annual meeting, on March 6, will feature an appearance by Senator Heller, who will be thanked for introducing S.315 and also for supporting the successful effort last year to preserve Medicare coverage of auditory osseointegrated implants (AOIs).
Joining HIA members at the event will be representatives of organizations that endorse the tax credit: the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Hearing Loss Association of America, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the International Hearing Society.
Heller, who served two terms in the House of Representatives before entering the Senate in 2011, has been a consistent champion of the HATC. Hearing Loss Association of America members honored him for his support at their 2008 Convention in Reno, which was in his congressional district.
A WORD FROM THE CHAIRMAN
Todd Murray, chairman of HIA, said, “We are thrilled that Senators Heller and Klobuchar are championing this bill.” Murray, who is president of GN Hearing Care Corporation North America, pointed out, “Hearing loss is an issue that affects millions of people, and this legislation could have a great impact on their ability to afford hearing aid treatment.”
Noting that studies have indicated a link between untreated hearing loss and dementia, depression, and the risk of falling, Murray added, “Lack of financial assistance should not be a barrier to hearing aid adoption.”
Further information on the bill is available online.