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Harkin, Heller Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Provide Need-Based Tax Credits for Hearing Aids

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the  Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act. The legislation provides a non-refundable $500 tax credit for the purchase of a hearing aid, or $1,000 if two are needed, once every five years.

“As someone who grew up with a brother who was deaf, I know firsthand the challenges that individuals with hearing loss face and how important it is that they have the opportunity to lead full and active lives in their communities,” Harkin said. “Unfortunately, due to the high cost of some hearing aids, many of our family, friends, and neighbors with hearing loss struggle to afford one. This bipartisan bill will provide low-income families and individuals around the country with an important tax credit that will help them purchase a hearing aid.”

“Identifying hearing problems early in their onset and treating them immediately are important steps in coping with hearing difficulties, but unfortunately many Americans cannot afford the hearing devices they require. Providing individuals with the tools they need to remain involved members of society is important for building healthy communities. I am pleased to work with Senator Harkin on this much-needed legislation,” Heller said.

Harkin has been a long-time advocate for individuals with hearing impairments and people with disabilities. In 1990, he authored and led Senate passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. He has also led efforts in previous Congresses to help individuals with hearing loss to afford hearing aids.

According to the most recent MarkeTrak report—the largest national consumer survey on hearing loss—while 95 percent of individuals with hearing loss could be successfully treated with hearing aids, only about 25 percent of the 34 million Americans with hearing loss used them in 2008. Hearing aids are not covered under Medicare, or under the vast majority of state mandated benefits.  In fact, 61 percent of hearing aid purchases involve no third-party payment. This places the entire burden of the purchase on the consumer.

The average cost for a hearing aid in 2008 was $1,675 including fitting, evaluation and post-fitting treatment, according to the same MarkeTrak report.  Nearly 80 percent of individuals with hearing loss required two devices in 2008, increasing average out-of-pocket expenses to $3,350. A full 68 percent of those with hearing loss cite financial constraints as a core reason they do not use hearing aids.

Groups supporting the Harkin-Heller proposal include AARP, Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Academy of Doctors of Audiology, American Academy of Audiology, American Speech Language Hearing Association, Hearing Health Foundation, Hearing Industries Association, Hearing Loss Association of America, Hearing Network Alliance, and the International Hearing Society.