Friends of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus

Our Impact Invigorated: HHF Visits the NIDCD

By Timothy Higdon

In my role as CEO of Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), most of my time is spent liaising with the individuals who make our groundbreaking work possible—scientists, volunteers, Board members, and donors—from our New York City office. I was fortunate to recently step away from my typical routine to witness the excitement of hearing and balance science at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday, August 21. 

This educational visit was organized by the Friends of the Congressional Hearing Health Congressional (FCHHC), the coalition co-founded by HHF that supports the policy interests of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (CHHC), a bipartisan group to committed to increasing hearing health care.

We learned about the latest federally-funded advancements in hearing and balance disorders in a tour of the labs at NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) Intramural Research Program at the Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD. The nation’s largest hospital devoted to clinical research, the center is one location where the NIDCD supports and conducts research on the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language with an annual budget of $474 million. 

Members of the FCHHC in the Clinical Center. Photo by Nichole Westin, American Cochlear Implant Alliance.

Members of the FCHHC in the Clinical Center. Photo by Nichole Westin, American Cochlear Implant Alliance.

NIDCD Scientific Director Andrew J. Griffith, M.D., Ph.D., and clinician-scientists Carmen Brewer, Ph.D., and Clint Allen, M.D., hosted a presentation and tour. Griffith noted the importance of animal models in his overview of the hearing and balance functions, a nod to our Hearing Restoration Project’s work with birds, fish, and mice to identify biological cures for hearing loss in humans.

I was very impressed by the state-of-the-art facilities, especially the vestibular testing booth that is used to evaluate hearing and balance patients. Eye movement is observed while the chair or walls of the booth spin rapidly, helping doctors to understand how conditions like vertigo or Ménière's disease are affecting the patient.

The support that is given to patients in clinical trials also inspired me immensely. Clinical trials recruitment can be challenging, but the NIH has a national reach with a database registry for interested patients. The NIH helps with relocation expenses for the patient to minimize disruption while necessary care is provided.

I am tremendously excited by the strong relationship HHF maintains with the NIDCD. The NIDCD’s newly appointed Director, Debara Tucci, M.D., is an alumnus of our Emerging Research Grants (ERG) program and Council of Scientific Trustees. Many of our ERG recipients subsequently qualify for funding from the NIDCD and other constituent institutes of the NIH at the rate of $91 for every $1 invested by HHF. My visit to the NIH was a meaningful reminder of the impact our scientists make at the federal level, while demonstrating that much more work must be done to better the millions who live with hearing and balance conditions. 

How wonderful it was to spend the day with so many individuals committed to hearing health. I look forward to continuing our relationships with the NIDCD and the FCHHC to advance our vision of a world in which people can live without hearing loss.

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HHF Co-Sponsors Hearing Health Care Economics Presentation on Capitol Hill

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By Lauren McGrath

Our aging population’s lack of access to hearing loss treatment is a public health crisis. More than half of Americans 60 and older live with hearing loss. When left untreated, hearing loss can increase the risk of cognitive decline, social isolation, falls, and dementia. Unaddressed hearing loss is also connected to higher rates of unemployment, longer hospital stays, and premature mortality.

On May 29, 2019, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) and 11 other Friends of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (FCHHC) member organizations co-sponsored a briefing luncheon on the economics of hearing health care for Congressional staff and other Federal employees at the Rayburn Office House Building on Capitol Hill.

As both a leader in hearing loss research and a founding member of the FCHHC, the coalition that supports the policy interests of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (CHHC), HHF is committed to increasing adoption of hearing loss treatment. The CHHC, a U.S. House of Representatives caucus* co-chaired by Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), aims to raise awareness of issues that affect Americans with hearing loss, and has previously been influential in the passage and preservation of universal newborn hearing screening legislation. Each year, the FCHHC organizes a briefing for Congressional staffers on an important topic in hearing health.

Event Flyer (Click to Enlarge)

Event Flyer (Click to Enlarge)

The year’s meeting, entitled “Understanding the Cost of Not Treating Hearing Loss in Adults,” featured two expert speakers, Richard K. Gurgel, M.D., clinician and Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at University of Utah School of Medicine, and Ian Windmill, Ph.D., Clinical Director of the Division of Audiology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Gurgel and Windmill spoke about the prevalence of hearing loss and its impact, noting that by 2060, this sensory deficit — the most common among seniors — will impact more than 73 million adults, with the overwhelming majority financially unable to pursue treatment. According to the NIDCD, about 70% of adults ages 70 and older who could benefit from hearing aids have used the devices.

Cost is the largest barrier to purchasing hearing aids, the primary treatment for hearing loss, among adults in the U.S. A 2017 Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) and Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) survey found that the cost of hearing aids exceed the next most commonly cited limitation — uncertainty about where to get hearing tested — by 575 percent.

Both Gurgel and Windmill cited the implications of paper entitled “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Hearing Care Services: What Is It Worth to Medicare?”, published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society in April 2019. The paper’s authors determined that the average annual spending of Medicare beneficiaries who use hearing care services is $8,196, which the spending of those who do not use hearing care services is $10,709, an annual difference of $2,513 per recipient. This difference amounts to a cost savings of more than $7 billion to Medicare annually.

Windmill also cited a report showing that worker’s compensation costs related to hearing loss for a single year in Kentucky averaged $14,500 per person and amounted to a total of $14.5 million statewide. From this report, we can estimate at least $725 million in worker’s compensation payments related to hearing loss are made each year.

While the Congressional luncheon attendees were enthusiastic, and the economic case for Medicare coverage of hearing aids is compelling, more advocacy work is needed to maximize the number of older adults treating hearing loss. HHF encourages you to take action by inviting your local representatives to join the CHHC and to garner support for relevant existing bills: Medical Hearing Aid Coverage Act of 2019 (H.R. 1518), Medicare Dental, Vision, and Hearing Benefit Act of 2019 (S. 1423 / H.R. 1393), and the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act (H.R. 576).

You can learn more about the FCHHC and review the presenters’ slides via the American Cochlear Implant Alliance.

*Current members of the CHHC, as of June 2019:

Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)
Andre Carson (D-IN)
Kevin Cramer (R-ND)
Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
Eliot Engel (D-NY)
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)
Peter King (R-NY)
Dave Loebsack (D-IA)
Betty McCollum (D-MN)
Richard Neal (D-MA)
Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
David Roe (R-TN)
Adam Schiff (D-CA)
Adam Smith (D-WA)

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