CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA — Coinciding with World Hearing Day, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a new report that puts the “hearing aid sector on notice”. The report, Issues around the sale of hearing aids, encourages industry reform, such as reconsidering commissions, disclosure and sales practices.
The ACCC is Australia’s competition regulator and is tasked with ensuring that individuals and businesses comply with Australian competition, fair trading, and consumer protection laws. According to the Commission, this year’s focus is on industries that enjoy a high level of trust and where commissions may not be expected, such as the dispensing of hearing aids.
“Some hearing clinics encourage clinicians to sell more expensive hearing aids by setting sales targets, paying commissions to clinicians, having arrangements that favor certain brands or are owned by companies that manufacture hearing aids.”
While it has concerns about some industry practices, the ACCC was quick to point out that not all clinics or clinicians engage in the “concerning conduct” brought to the ACCC’s attention and that some consumers that were surveyed had indicated positive experiences dealing with hearing clinics and clinicians.
Commission Requests Companies Review Programs
The ACCC has requested that operators of hearing clinics review their incentive programs, regarding sales and performance measures, to ensure they avoid conflict between healthcare advice and sales.
“The ACCC is concerned about a range of business practices in the hearing services industry, particularly around incentive based sales and commissions that are commonly used to motivate clinicians to sell hearing aids… Commission-based selling can provide incentives to clinicians to supply hearing aids that are unnecessary or more expensive than a consumer needs. This has the potential to lead to consumer harm where trusted advice is being given to patients, many of whom may be vulnerable or disadvantaged. Hearing clinics should be conscious of the incentives they offer and consider remuneration structures that reward service and quality advice ahead of sales”
–Sarah Court, ACCC Commissioner
According to the report, prices on hearing aids in Australia currently range from $1,500 to $15,000 per pair (approximately $1125-$11,250 USD).
Audiology Groups Respond to Hearing Aid Report
In comments to the Sydney Morning Herald, Audiology Australia (AA), which represents 2500 audiologists across the country, urged consumers to go to certified members. The organization’s chief executive, Dr. Tony Coles, said that “in accordance with our code of conduct, members must make recommendations to clients based on clinical assessment and the client’s needs, not on the basis of financial gain.”
Like in neighboring New Zealand, where increased scrutiny has faced manufacturer-owned clinics in recent years, the hearing industry remains relatively unregulated in Australia.
Audiology Australia and Independent Audiologists Australia (IAA) have been lobbying both state and federal governments for some time to register audiologists under the Australian Health Practitioners Registration Scheme so they are subject to regulation, but have so far been unsuccessful.
Consumer Hearing Aid Guidance
In addition to the report, the Commission has also released guidance material to help consumers make “an informed choice” when purchasing hearing aids.