The American Academy of Audiology (the Academy) had an extremely active 2017 on Capitol Hill and with federal regulatory agencies, seeing multiple victories and building relationships that will allow for continued success as we enter 2018. In addition to being engaged with the House and Senate on issues related to over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, early childhood hearing, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, student loan relief, and telehealth, the Academy had extensive conversations on important topics with agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). 

Through 2017, the Academy was able to build upon previous relationships and issue areas to better represent the interests of audiologists in Washington. 

One of the Academy’s key legislative priorities entering 2017 was ensuring that Congress reauthorized the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Act. The EHDI authorization had expired in 2015 and remained a priority for the hearing health community in Washington. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Representatives Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced corresponding EHDI bills in March. The Academy, along with several other strategic partners, met with members of Congress throughout this time period to solicit cosponsors list and urge Congress to advance this bill. The Academy also had several student groups visit to lobby Congress on EHDI, including a joint group from The Ohio State University and the Northeast Ohio AuD Consortium, Nova Southeastern University, and the Student Academy of Audiology Board. 

In October, the merits of the legislation prevailed and the bill was passed out of the House of Representatives through a voice vote following passage from the Senate. Less than two weeks later, President Trump signed the legislation, which authorizes funding for state EHDI programs for the next five years. The Academy thanks all of its members who contacted their representatives to ensure that Congress was aware of the importance of passing this bill. 

The Academy also engaged with Congress on the OTC Hearing Aid Act. The Academy preemptively met with staff for Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in early February 2017 before they reintroduced their bill from the previous Congress. The Academy worked closely with the bill’s sponsors to enact some positive changes to the legislation, including advocating for stronger labeling requirements, while also taking the opportunity to educate Congress on the role and importance of the audiologist beyond the hearing aid device itself. Following intense discussions between Congress and members of the hearing health community, the legislation was attached to the FDA Reauthorization Act, a must-pass bill. This bill was signed into law by President Trump in August. The FDA is set to begin the Rulemaking process related to developing a category of OTC hearing aids. 

Several Academy Board Members met with the FDA at the end of October to get a better sense of timing and to understand the direction that the FDA plans to take when regulating the new category of OTC hearing aids. The Academy shared a number of recommendations that included labeling recommendations, ensuring that the FDA treats OTC hearing aids as medical devices and not consumer electronics, and wanting to find out how to best mitigate consumer confusion related to OTC hearing aids and personal sound amplification products. The FDA shares the Academy’s concerns about these issues and there are plans in place to remain actively engaged over the coming years as the FDA develops and distributes their notice of proposed rule making. 

Additionally, the Academy recently took a position in support of H.R. 2550, the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act. This legislation will add audiologists to the list of accepted providers to be reimbursed when Medicare services are provided through telehealth. The Academy strongly supports telehealth and allowing audiologists to be reimbursed for services provided to Medicare beneficiaries through telehealth. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), a longtime champion of hearing health care and one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus. The Academy has begun meeting with Congress on this issue, hoping to see some movement in 2018. 

Building on our work related to telehealth, the Academy filed comments with the VA on expanding the authority of VA providers to provide telehealth to their patients. The Academy supported the efforts to clarify the ability of health care providers, like audiologists, to provide care to veterans through telehealth. The Academy has also remained active in Congress on veterans' issues and audiological services provided by VA audiologists. 

The Academy held dozens of meetings with key members of Congress when potential conversations over privatization of VA audiology were discussed. Luckily, these concerns never materialized and the Academy was able to engage with Veterans Affairs committee members in a productive way.

The Academy’s legislative efforts for the year culminated with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) recognizing October as National Audiology Awareness Month. While the resolution does not change federal policy, it does bolster the Academy’s efforts to increase public awareness of the profession and to recognize the importance of the audiologist in hearing health care. 

2018 looks to be another busy and active year. In addition to continued discussions over telehealth, student loan relief through the Access to Frontline Health Care Act (H.R. 2042), OTC hearing aids at the FDA, and other potential congressional matters, 2018 is also an election year, and the Academy is planning to focus on expanding the Academy’s Political Action Committee (PAC). 

In 2017, the Academy’s PAC Advisory Board approved significant contributions to both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). These contributions have allowed the Academy to build a strong network of support from members of Congress. The Academy also has contributed to members of Congress and candidates for office supportive of audiology and hearing health care-related issues and expects to build on these relationships in 2018. To read more about the Academy’s PAC, please visit the Political Action Committee section of the Academy’s website found under the Advocacy tab. 

If you have any questions about the Academy’s public policy agenda, contact Adam Finkel, associate director of government relations, at afinkel@audiology.org.