A forum at the Vancouver Public Library aims to shed some light on why hearing aids in British Columbia are so expensive.
The forum, entitled Hearing Aid Costs and Services: What Consumers Need, is being organized by the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association for Saturday (April 26). The event will consist of a keynote address and a discussion led by panelists in all areas affected: consumers, audiologists, the hearing aid industry, and the provincial government.
A hearing aid can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $8,000, and this is a cost that many hard of hearing people are unable to afford, according to Charles Laszlo, forum organizer and the founding president of the CHHA.
“Many people with income restrictions simply are struggling to buy hearing aids because they are, on the whole, expensive,” he said.
Gael Hannan, keynote speaker for the event and hard of hearing advocate, understands the expense all too well.
“I’ve had people say to me that they are saving up to buy a hearing aid,” she said. “You save up to buy a car, to buy a house, to buy luxuries. You shouldn’t have to save up to buy a hearing aid.”
The consequences of hearing loss
Nearly one out of every four adult Canadians reports having some hearing loss, according to a Canadian Hearing Society awareness survey. This hearing loss can range from mild to complete deafness. For all levels of hearing loss, however, the consequences can be serious.
“There is isolation, family strife, educational opportunities and employment advancement lost, relationships within an office, or workplace change,” Laszlo said. “This is a small thing, but it is a big thing.”
Hannan agrees that the consequences of hearing loss are all-encompassing.
“Hearing loss is all about emotion; it affects communication, and communication is the glue that connects us to each other and the world around us,” Hannan said. “When you have hearing loss, whether it’s mild or you become deaf, it’s going to affect your life.”
Unfortunately, hearing loss is something that is often hidden. “People don’t like to admit their hearing loss for a number of reasons,” Hannan said. “Because of the age-old stigma attached to hearing loss or hearing aids: ‘People will think I’m old, think I’m losing it, that no longer capable of doing my job.’”
Marilyn Dahl, president of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association’s B.C. chapter, understands this feeling all too well.
“I was halfway through my nurse’s training when I suddenly lost about half my hearing,” she said. “I thought I was the only young adult hard of hearing person in the world; I didn’t know anybody else who was hard of hearing. It was very isolating.”
Government support for hearing aids
The B.C. government does not provide coverage for hearing aids under MSP. However, there are a few circumstances in which people are eligible for coverage.
Through the B.C. Early Hearing Program, children under three and a half years old are eligible for coverage of some of the costs associated with hearing aids. For deaf and hard of hearing children, the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s At Home Program assists parents of eligible children with severe disabilities with the cost of hearing appliances.
There are also financing opportunities for eligible adults on social assistance. For adults whose hearing loss is a result of a workplace accident, coverage may be available from WorkSafeBC.
Unfortunately, the majority of people still fall between the cracks. However, Kristy Anderson, spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Health, says that the government is doing the best it can with limited resources.
“The Ministry of Health is responsible for providing high quality care to our residents while ensuring we are responsible with each and every tax dollar spent,” Anderson said. “With the increasing costs of healthcare, we have had to make difficult choices to make our system sustainable.”
Regardless of the ministry’s choices, Laszlo believes that something needs to change, and he is hoping that this forum will help people find answers.
“What we would like to do is to bring some transparency into this,” Laszlo said. “Why are the costs so high? Is it the manufacturer that is charging too much? Is it the person that is fitting the hearing aid? Is there any real reason, and if yes, then it can be discussed.”
The forum will take place Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the library’s central branch. Assistive listening systems and real-time English captioning will be provided.