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Development of Hearing Aid Technology Won’t Be Hindered by Universal Healthcare

Posted Mar 23 2010 1:39pm

“We have a high cost (health care) system because we want a high cost system. We want to be able to stimulate science and technology in the American culture. Looking at the pluses — think of people you know who are in their 70s, 80s, 90s, who are functioning very well, who may have hearing aids.

-Rosemary A Stevens, PhD”

This is taken from a PBS program on health care reform .   I thought it an odd statement to make about hearing aids considering that America is not currently at the forefront of hearing technology despite the fact we don’t offer hearing aid coverage or a universal health plan (or didn’t up until now.)

One scare tactic often used by the opposition to universal coverage is that private research monies will be diverted to the cost of health care rather than technological advances—and as a result America will fall behind.  The problem with this argument is we are already behind—at least in the hearing industry.

My Phonak hearing aids with their sound recovery system (frequency transposition), is a product of Switzerland, for example.   I tried the Oticon Epoq —a product of the Netherlands.  The Epoq combines power with wireless connectivity to locate sound—almost unheard of in hearing aids.  Both the Oticon and Phonak are at the forefront of the hearing aid technology.  My last pair of aids were made by Siemens , a German company.  They were state-of-the-art when I bought them ten years ago, and are still running well.

I expect to get a cochlear implant in the future.  Both Cochlear Limited and Med-El are in the process of developing less invasive electrodes so that residual hearing may be better preserved.  Cochlear is an Australian company while Med-El is Austrian.  Advanced Bionics (American) came late on the scene of cochlear implants.  While it’s a good product, it has not been without its kinks.  The Cochlear Nucleus far surpasses the other companies in terms of reliability.  Cochlear’s Hybrid is an exciting breakthrough for people like me with steep ski slope hearing losses.

This isn’t to say that Americans aren’t ahead in other technologies, but the statement by Rosemary Stevens above, is misleading.  American deaf and hard of hearing people mostly wear hearing aids or implants developed by other countries– countries that have had universal health care systems in place for many decades.


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