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Academy Opposes VA Bill that Adds Physician Oversight of Audiologists and Expands Scope of Practice by Hearing Aid Specialists (amended bill H.R. 3471)

Academy Opposes VA Bill that Adds Physician Oversight of Audiologists and Expands Scope of Practice by Hearing Aid Specialists (amended bill H.R. 3471)

On May 18, 2016, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved amended bill H.R. 3471.  The bill replaces H.R. 353, sponsored by Representatives Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Tim Walz (D-MN), which would authorize the VA to employ hearing aid specialists to provide hearing health care services.  The Academy has opposed H.R. 353 because it would inappropriately elevate hearing aid specialists to the same professional status as physicians, audiologists and other health care providers who have a master’s or doctoral-level degrees.  While the stated purpose of the bill is to reduce wait times for veterans seeking hearing healthcare, the reality is that hearing aid specialists are pursuing an expanded scope of practice through the VA with the goal of achieving parity with audiologists.  The Academy believes it is critical to ensure that veterans continue to receive comprehensive hearing healthcare services provided by audiologists to receive the highest standard of care.

The Academy is pleased that amended bill H.R. 3471 modified the language in H.R. 353 and would require hearing aid specialists to work under a treatment plan developed by an audiologist.  Also, training and education qualifications for hearing aid specialists would be determined by the VA Secretary in consult with stakeholders.  Unfortunately, the bill was further amended at the request of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) to add the term “non-medical,” rather than “audiologic,” when addressing treatment plans by audiologists.  This would add a layer of physician oversight for audiologic services that runs contrary to existing VA policies and practice recognizing audiologists as gatekeepers for hearing care.

Though amended bill H.R. 3471 includes improvements to H.R. 353 that the Academy supports, we continue to believe the bill is unnecessary and could lead to a reduction in quality of hearing health care services for veterans.  The Academy will vigorously oppose H.R 3471 until the term “non-medical” treatment plan is replaced with “audiologic” treatment plan.

It is important to note that language changes were made only to the House of Representatives bill (H.R. 353).  The Senate bill (S. 564) remains the same.  The Academy opposes H.R. 3471 (the amended version of H.R 353), and S. 564.  Both bills would expand the scope of practice for hearing aid specialists in the VA  by permitting them to deliver services that are currently provided only by audiologists.

Veterans’ Access to Hearing Health Act of 2015 (H.R. 353).  H.R. 353 expands the scope of practice for Hearing Aid Specialists in the VA.  The bill was replaced by amended bill H.R. 3471.

   Veterans’ Hearing Aid Access and Assistance Act (S. 564).  S. 564 expands the scope of practice for
   Hearing Aid Specialists in the VA.