Save Saskatchewan's Hearing Aid Plan
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The Saskatchewan Party has recently announced that they will be phasing out the provinces Hearing Aid Plan for everyone except low-income residents, eliminating its coverage of audiological evaluation and subsidized hearing aids. I became a patient of the hearing aid plan when I was in my mid 20's and am against this decision. This is my story:
I had trouble with my hearing while still in high school. I’d gone to several doctors to complain about my hearing but they all said the same things "it's wax build up", "you have an infection", "it's probably because you have a cold coming on". Not one of those doctors sent me for a hearing test or suggested that I see an audiologist.
It wasn’t until years later while attending a course at SIAST that I realized that my hearing definitely wasn't as good as it should be. I had difficulty understanding teachers at times. I misheard other students regularly. This was not only a source of embarrassment but also made school more difficult than it should've been. I went to see the doctor and was given the same answers as before; “you have an ear infection” or “it’s just a head cold”. So I suffered through school.
Once I graduated and started working I decided I needed to get my hearing dealt with. I didn’t know the Hearing Aid Plan existed because nobody had ever bothered to tell me. But now that I had a regular income I had the money to see an audiologist and to have my hearing tested at a private hearing clinic.
After having my hearing tested at a private clinic the audiologist noted that I had significant hearing loss & suggested I wear hearing aids. I don’t remember the exact quote/estimate that I was given but I remember it was more than I could afford at the time. I was working and I made enough money to put myself above the "low-income" line but I had school debts to pay and I was trying to save for my first home.
I started quizzing the audiologist about my hearing loss. I asked her if she could tell what caused the loss and if it could be corrected. She didn’t seem very interested in helping me determine if my hearing could be corrected another way. She was in the business of selling hearing aids after all. After pressing her for info she did tell me that part of my hearing loss was a conductive loss and that conductive losses can sometimes be corrected through surgery. She said I'd have to see an ENT to find out more. She did not give me a referral so I went to a walk in clinic and asked for a referral to an ENT.
My ENT determined that I had auto-sclerosis and that I could regain some of my hearing through surgery. We elected to try surgery in my left ear (my worst one) and I was put on a waiting list. If that surgery was successful we would then try surgery in my right ear. My ENT suggested that I get fitted for a hearing aid in my right ear while I waited (my hearing in my left ear was so poor that a hearing aid wouldn't really have helped). Thankfully my ENT suggested that I see the Hearing Aid Plan. This ENT changed my life.
I didn't even know that the Hearing Aid Plan existed. Imagine my surprise that I could FINALLY afford a hearing aid and could hear like everyone else! It was amazing. After being fitted for a hearing aid I could hear things that I couldn’t remember ever hearing before. I wasn’t "low income" but without the help of the Hearing Aid Plan there is NO WAY I could’ve afforded that hearing aid, at that time without enduring financial hardship.
My experience is a perfect illustration of how broken our health care system is when it comes to treating our hearing. I started seeing doctors to complain about my hearing when I was 16! It shouldn't have taken me until my mid 20's for someone to suggest that I see an ENT specialist or to suggest that I see the Hearing Aid Plan. I can't imagine things are going to be any better when the Hearing Aid Plan is gone.
It's now been over 10 years since I've become a patient of the Hearing Aid Plan. I've had corrective surgeries to both of my ears but I still need hearing aids to hear "normally". Hearing aids must be replaced every 5 years because the manufacturers deem them “obsolete” when they’re 5 years old and stop servicing them. I am now on my second pair of hearing aids and I’m due for my third (the ones I’m wearing are over 5 years old). My health plan from work only covers $500 once every 5 years; which doesn't even cover the cost of batteries and repairs (hearing aids need repair constantly). This is a financial hardship for anyone, regardless of income level. Without the Hearing Aid Plan I would find it very difficult to pay for new hearing aids every 5 years.
Can you imagine treating vision loss this way? If glasses cost thousands of dollars a pair, needed repair regularly and were forcibly made "obsolete" by the manufacturers every 5 years would we allow the government to cut a program that helped ease the financial burden? Would we allow a large percentage of our population to go “blind”? Would we accept the loss of productivity and the reduced quality of life that this would cause?
It may seem like a reasonable argument to say "if your income is above ____ you can afford hearing aids" until you examine the facts. People who wear hearing aids are faced with paying thousands of dollars every 5 years to replace their hearing aids. During that time they also have to pay for regular hearing tests, repairs, batteries, etc. This is a financial hardship for ANYONE, regardless of income level.
When faced with paying thousands for hearing aids many people are going to decide to “suffer through” and to go without. Our economy and the future of our province will suffer as well. How much potential will we be lost by not having the Hearing Aid Plan? How many people won’t make it through secondary school because they can’t hear well enough to succeed? How much productivity will be lost because people can't hear as well as they should be able to?
If the Saskatchewan Party truly believes that it is OK to cut the Hearing Aid Plan I suggest that they hand out ear plugs at their next meeting and ask everyone to wear them. Let them see how much harder everything becomes and how much more difficult it is to succeed. That is the life they will be giving to hundreds if not thousands of children, students, the elderly and working people like me, in our province.
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