Urgent Advocacy Update: Department of Labor (DOL) and Congress Action

On November 17th, the U.S. Senate passed, H.R. 3471, the Veterans Mobility Safety Act of 2015 by unanimous consent. This bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on September 12, 2016, and is expected to be signed into law by the President. While the legislation includes a provision that would recognize hearing aid specialists for appointment under the VA, it specifically requires that hearing aid specialists provide services within their scope of practice related to the practice of fitting and dispensing of hearing aids, and under a treatment plan of an audiologist.

This legislative action comes on the heels of the Department of Labor (DOL) disclosing that they have officially rescinded the highly concerning apprenticeship program for hearing aid dispensers. View the bulletin here. The DOL cited the need to seek additional input from audiology stakeholders before creating such a program in the future. This information was provided through a correspondence with Congressman Tim Walberg (R-MI), who expressed concern to the DOL on the development of the apprenticeship program absent input from audiology organizations.

The passage of H.R. 3471 and the DOL decision represent the culmination of efforts by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), American Academy of Audiology (AAA), and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), to prevent hearing aid dispensers from inappropriately expanding their job functions and duties both within the VA system and on the state level. Today marks a great victory for audiologists as we continue to ensure our patients receive access to high quality audiologic care!

With regard to our legislative efforts, the Audiology Organizations successfully stopped the advancement of the original House version
H.R. 353 and original Senate version S. 564 of the misguided “Fit to Serve” legislation. These bills were proposed and shepherded by the International Hearing Society (IHS) and hearing aid dispensers nationwide. Together, the Audiology Organizations worked with members of Congress to modify the bill's language to appropriately restrict job duties of hearing aid dispensers to reflect their limited training and education. As a result, the language contained in the final, passed version of the Veterans Mobility Safety Act includes important patient protections that did not previously exist in the original House or Senate bills.

The Audiology Organizations also engaged in extensive outreach to the DOL to rescind the program. We are grateful to Congressman Walberg, who sits on both the Energy and Commerce and Government Reform and Oversight Committees for his willingness to intervene with DOL to inquire on the process it took to properly vet the IHS apprenticeship program. ADA first discovered the apprenticeship program in August of 2015, and has been working since that time to seek rescission of the program. View the orginal ADA letter to the DOL

Both Congress and the DOL have taken important steps to recognize and preserve the important role of audiologists in the delivery of hearing health care services, duly responsible for the development and oversight of patients' audiologic plans of care, and limit the role of hearing aid dispensers to that of the fitting and dispensing of hearing aids.  

ADA appreciates the grassroots efforts of its members in reaching out to their elected officials on behalf of the profession and our patients. As a result of your efforts, the voice of audiology was heard on the Hill and within the Administration!

ADA is also seeking to further protect the audiology profession and the public from dispensers seeking to inappropriately provide tinnitus services. To that end, ADA filed a lawsuit against IHS regarding the Tinnitus Care Provider Certificate.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, near where IHS is located. Read the Complaint here. View Exhibit 1 here. View Exhibit 2 here. ADA will keep members posted as additional information becomes available.

For additional information, contact Stephanie Czuhajewski at
sczuhajewski@audiologist.org.