Today I came across a gofundme campaign for a 14-year-old girl who needs hearing aids. They need around $6000 to get her these, and there’s little to no funding available, partly because they’re just not poor enough, and partly because America is bloody ridiculous. She’s probably had hearing loss from birth, and hearing aids will change her world. I know, because I watched the day my daughter got hers.
My youngest has moderate hearing loss. It’s not extreme, she’s not deaf, but she doesn’t hear well at all. It’s more difficult than most moderate hearing because she has an unusual loss pattern – she can’t hear right in the middle of the vocal range, so the things she can’t hear aren’t necessarily quiet noises – she can hear some of them. What she can’t hear are people’s voices. The magic of turning her hearing aids on and seeing her hear me properly for the first time was absolute magic. The change in her coping ability was massive – she wasn’t constantly frustrated by not hearing things properly any more. The difference in her schooling – she can hear what’s going on, she can follow the instructions now that she hears them, she gets in trouble less because she’s not constantly frustrated and does what she’s told. Magic.
Her hearing aids come in at just under $4,000 for the pair, plus testing, fitting, and incidentals like batteries and repairs. How much have we paid so far? About $20 in parking fees for the local hospital. Every child under 16 in this country gets their hearing aids absolutely free (or up to age 21 if still in full-time schooling). It’s great.
Things get a little more difficult when a child leaves school and officially becomes an adult. At that point there are two schemes in place – the Hearing Aid Subsidy Scheme and the Hearing Aid Funding Scheme. The Funding Scheme pays for hearing aids once every six years, plus repairs as needed. The Subsidy Scheme pays a certain amount toward the costs of hearing aids once every six years.
The Funding Scheme is for children who graduate into adulthood with severe hearing loss. My girl does not have severe hearing loss – she has only moderate hearing loss, but in a difficult way, as I said. So she does not qualify for Funding.
That leaves the Subsidy Scheme, which is available to anyone needing hearing aids. That’s kind of neat, too, that anyone can access some funding for a problem that can be disabling for many people. It interferes with work, with leisure, with family life – it’s a big deal, even when only mild or moderate. Unfortunately the amount is not ideal. It’s $511.11 per hearing aid, per six year period. you may remember that my girl’s hearing aids cost the best part of $4,000. The difference is staggering.
Low-end hearing aids can cost as little as $800 each, but they’re called low-end for a reason. Mid-range cost up to about $1,500, and they’re a bit better, but for an active young person who goes to cafes and pubs, who goes to group meetings and is generally in complex aural situations, a high-end device can cost up to $3,000 – per ear. (Figures are from a government document that I cannot locate at this time). The shortfall is massive.
We are lucky, in that at this time and probably in the future we will be able to help her pay for such a huge investment, the way we pay for her sister’s glasses at the moment. What if we were not so lucky? What if I hadn’t found a decent job and was living on minimum wage – or a benefit? Hearing loss is a reality for families at all income levels, and graduating from a free service to suddenly being left with almost nothing means the end of good hearing for many people, with the social and workplace handicaps that entails. This prevents those with moderate hearing loss from achieving and earning at their highest potential.
I know that in the end it comes down to budget, and budget is something that I would struggle to allocate. Surely this, though, is something that would provide a net gain on investment due to the increased ability to pay tax on better jobs acquired through better hearing? Perhaps I am naive, but it would seem to me to be a decent investment.