MK urges change in hearing aid subsidy rules

Shas MK says new Health Ministry directives have "made the lives of hearing impaired miserable, increasing amount of bureaucracy."

hearing aid_370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
hearing aid_370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Although the Health Ministry may have had good intentions in helping the deaf and hearing impaired to get hearing aids at reduced prices, the arrangements it made have things worse, according to MK David Azoulay (Shas), chairman of the Knesset Public Petitions Committee.
Azoulay charged on Wednesday that new ministry directives have “made the lives of the hearing impaired miserable, increasing the amount of bureaucracy, harming their privacy and embarrassing them. The state subsidy for the devices caused manufacturers and importers to hike their prices,” the MK maintained.
In October 2011, the ministry issued new procedures for people over 65 to buy subsidized hearing aids. It announced that over a period of three years, elderly people who needed them would receive NIS 3,000 instead of the previous NIS 851 for hearing aids for each ear. But to get the subsidy, “people now have to run from one office to another, answer insulting questionnaires, undergo superfluous tests and wait long periods – even four months or more – to obtain the money. According to the procedures, the whole process should take no more than 60 days to get the subsidy,” Azoulay said.
In addition, there are not enough hearing institutes for testing, and the queues are very long for those who must prove they are entitled to get subsidization, he said.
Azoulay demanded that the ministry appoint a clinical communication specialist to speed up tenders to run hearing institutes in the health funds, and reconsider the requirement of filling out the questionnaires so they do not intrude on privacy. He also demanded a restoration of the old procedures on people aged 18 to 65, who in any case are not eligible for the higher subsidies, and to make it possible for those who received hearing aids in the past to receive them three years later without the need to start the whole application procedure again.
Revital Tepper Haver-Tov, from the ministry’s branch for supervising the health funds and supplementary health insurance, said a tender for a communication specialist has been completed, and candidates are now being heard by a tender board. Soon, she said, a person will be selected to fill the post. She conceded that higher ministry subsidies have led to the hikes in prices by the companies that sell the hearing aids. In addition, she agreed to consider changes in the questionnaires.
Among the questions on the new forms, which were presented to the MKs at the session, were: “Do you go to restaurants?” Applicants are afraid to answer because they think that if they write “yes,” they will be regarded as “too wealthy to get subsidies.” A professional organization of communication specialists said all the red tape was unnecessary, as the ability to hear in people who were already using hearing aids does not get better but only worse.
An 88-year-old hearing-impaired man who attended the Knesset committee session said it was hard for him to make appointments by phone at a health fund hearing institute, as staffers answer the phone infrequently and the lines are often busy. When he did reach a clinic's phone in November 2011, he was told that the earliest he could come in for a test was in March 2012 in a Petah Tikva hospital, even though he lives in Tel Aviv. When he arrived at the clinic for an examination, only his documents were checked, but he was not given a hearing test, he said.
The ministry spokeswoman said on Thursday that due to the growing need for hearing aids among the elderly, it raised the subsidies and cannot be blamed for the companies’ hiking of prices. “Very few complaints” have been received by the ministry ombudsman relating to the service, she said.