Last year, the Department of Health commissioned an independent Expert Panel, comprising Professor Michael Woods and Dr Zena Burgess, to review the Hearing Services Program (the Program).
The Program Review focused on:
- whether the Program delivered services aligned with clinical need and contemporary service delivery
- how the Voucher and device maintenance payment system compared with advances in the manufacturing sector and product offering
- how technology is changing the provision of services through the Program
- how Program services are currently delivered and whether access can be enhanced for vulnerable Australians and in thin markets, including regional, rural, and remote areas.
The Expert Panel has now released their Draft Report to the Program Review for public consultation. Key recommendations provided by the Expert Panel to Government include:
- redefining the objectives of the Program to a more holistic focus on helping people with hearing loss be supported in their communication and psychosocial needs
- expanding the categories of eligible people to include all Low Income Health Care Card Holders under the Voucher stream and all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people under the Voucher and Community Service Obligation streams
- replacing the term ‘Voucher stream’ with a term such as ‘National Hearing Support stream’ to better reflect the purpose of the stream.
- including clients in the National Hearing Support stream who have special needs, namely adults with complex hearing needs and adults with cochlear/bone anchored implants, and then removing these clients from the CSO stream.
- making better use of Medicare by including a full diagnostic hearing assessment where warranted within the existing MBS item ‘Health assessment for people aged 75 years and older’.
- amending the Program’s scope to require service providers to offer a more holistic assessment of clients’ needs and broader range of interventions, including rehabilitation alternatives prior to offering the option of being supplied and fitted with a hearing aid device; rehabilitation services as part of providing a device; and psychosocial support alongside hearing assistance.
- redefining a hearing assessment to be a comprehensive process that involves an individual’s communication and psychosocial needs and should be guided by the National Acoustics Laboratory report to be released in 2021 in redefining the minimum hearing loss thresholds
- improving consumer choice by introducing measures which include requiring providers to publish the price and features of devices supplied and undertaking a feasibility study into the impacts of removing partially subsidised devices from the Program
- broadening the scope of technology to support flexible service modalities, including teleaudiology and others such as Bluetooth technologies, subject to evaluations of the benefits and costs of those modalities and the level of confidence and comfort felt by clients that their needs are being met.
You can view the Expert Panel’s Draft Report here and the Executive Summary and Recommendations here.
The Expert Panel will be providing their Final Report to the Government at the end of July 2021.
Audiology Australia is preparing a submission in response to the Draft Report and all members are invited to contribute to help inform our response. Please provide any feedback you may like to make via email to email@example.com by 5pm, Thursday 10 June 2021.