Meeting Summary

NEW YORK STATE HEARING AID DISPENSING ADVISORY BOARD
MEETING SUMMARY

January 23, 2013

The meeting was held at the Department of State, 99 Washington Avenue, 5th Floor Conference Room, Albany, and 65 Court Street, 2nd Floor Conference Room, Buffalo.


I. INTRODUCTIONS, ROLL CALL AND QUORUM ANNOUNCEMENT

The meeting was called to order at 10:40 a.m. K. Simon took roll call and declared there was a quorum present. The official attendance was as follows:


BOARD MEMBERS
Edward Aleo
David A. Beaulac
Florence Butler
Kathleen Cassidy
John Kenul
Anthony Macera
Shawn Newlands
Anne Orsene
Excused:
Ana Hae-Ok Kim

EX-OFFICIO BOARD MEMBERS
Keith Simon, representing Cesar Perales, Secretary of State, Board Chair
Jonathan Curtin, representing Nirav R. Shaf, Commissioner, NYS Department of Health
Excused:
James Hinds, representing John B. King, Commissioner, NYS Education Department
Representative, Eric T. Schneiderman, NYS Attorney General

DEPARTMENT OF STATE STAFF
Marcos Vigil, Deputy Secretary of State for Business and Licensing
Kathleen M. McCoy, Director, Div. of Licensing Services
Whitney Clark, Counsel
Melanie Grossman, Outreach Coordinator, Division of Consumer Protection
Michael Elmendorf, Chief Investigator
Ronald Schwartz, Investigator
Amy Penzabene, Systems Coordinator/Admin. Liaison
Marc Mastrobuono, Education Bureau
Carol Fansler, Board Coordination

VISITORS
Barbara Ahern, Hearing Health Care Alliance of NY (HHCANY)
Gail Myers, NY Statewide Senior Action Council
Charles Bell, Consumer Union

Since this was the first time video-conferencing with another site due to the use of the special hearing aid equipment, K. Simon reminded everyone about the use of the microphones for that equipment, and asked the Buffalo office to mute their microphone when they were not speaking, to avoid any other noises coming through the special equipment.

II. APPROVAL OF MEETING SUMMARIES

K. Simon asked for motions to accept both the June 26, 2012 and October 10, 2012 meeting summaries. D. Beaulac made a motion to accept the June 26, 2012 and October 10, 2012 meeting summaries. The motion was seconded by A. Macera and passed unanimously.

III. SUBCOMMITTEE AND DEPARTMENT REPORTS

K. McCoy spoke about the annual hearing aid dispenser report submitted to the Legislature. She shared information from the 2012 report.

K. Simon spoke for the subcommittee formed to research using the National hearing aid exam vs. updating the State exam. He said that signed paperwork has been received back from subcommittee members allowing them to review the State exam, and that a conference call will be held in the next few weeks to begin research on this topic.

IV. ACTION ITEMS

Regarding the recent discussions about internet sale of hearing aids, two public members spoke on this topic. C. Bell, from the Consumers Union, stated that his office researches and publishes articles with recommendations and advice for consumers about hearing aids, and is currently gathering information about this topic. His office is concerned about the affordability, lack of insurance coverage, and rising costs of hearing aids. While they feel that consumer protections in place (such as current testing requirements) are important, they also feel that internet sale of hearing aids could be beneficial for consumers in regards to a wider selection and more affordable products. They feel that rules should be put in place that persons selling internet hearing aids would have to abide by. They are willing to work with the Department on this issue, and will share additional information as it becomes available.

F. Butler stated that she was happy that the board was looking into the sale of hearing aids on the internet, and feels it might be helpful for more consumers with hearing problems to obtain aids. As a member of the Hearing Loss Association, she believes that when they first came out in favor of internet sales, they were looking for more options in order to expand access for customers with hearing loss. She said there are problems, but believes there is more work to be done. She asked members to keep an open mind while doing their research.

G. Myers, from the NY Statewide Senior Action Council, stated that the council consists of senior citizens and their family members, and they advocate on issues such as housing, health, and economics as they are related to senior citizens. They encourage the Department to continue to explore the option of internet sale of hearing aids, and are willing to comment on any proposals brought before the board on this subject. Based on information gathered from their constituency, members concerns are that they do not want any underlying medical reasons a purchaser of hearing aids may have to be overlooked with the internet sale, and they do not want to lose the consumer protections currently in place with statutes and regulations. They feel that if a senior citizen has mild or moderate hearing loss the risk to purchasing internet hearing aids would not be as high. They may also be more inclined to make a purchase if they can get more choices and lower pricing by purchasing on the internet. They believe part of an annual visit with one’s primary doctor should include a hearing test, and are working toward that goal. They feel anyone selling hearing aids on the internet should include a link for the purchaser of a local hearing aid practice for fitting and testing of the aid. They believe anyone conducting the sale of hearing aids on the internet to customers in NYS should be licensed in NYS. They feel returns should be guaranteed, only new equipment should be allowed to be sold, and a trial period as well as repairs should be included in the purchase.

A lengthy discussion followed the speakers, with the majority of members speaking against the sale of hearing aids on the internet. E. Aleo spoke first and stressed that the Board was created as a way to protect the consumer, and that should be their main concern. He feels that money should not be the issue when making the purchase, as consumers can end up getting hurt when they only choose aids based on the price. He feels that most hearing aid businesses do a good job and take good care of patients, and that is being overlooked. He believes there is no proof that persons with mild or moderate hearing loss would be more inclined to make a purchase if they can get more choices and lower pricing by purchasing on the internet. He feels people are hesitant to admit hearing loss and can take 5-7 years before coming forward. He feels it takes a patient 3-6 months to adjust neurologically to hearing aids, and stated that physicians are not trained to conduct hearing tests.

D. Beaulac stated that while a lot of consumers cannot afford hearing aids, there are some methodologies available to help financially. Some insurance companies do cover hearing aids, and there are foundations and groups available to assist financially. He said that while cheaper hearing aids might be more appealing to some buyers, what is being overlooked is the evaluation of hearing, fitting of instruments, and follow-up visits done by a qualified dispenser. As far as accommodating persons in rural areas of the state, he feels offering bad service to accommodate rural areas is not a responsible choice. In order to provide services, a dispenser must have a physical location consumers can go to, a requirement that is in effect to help consumers get the best service. A. Macera added that mild and moderate hearing loss is being minimized. He feels it is an individual aspect of hearing loss, where dispensers will learn about a customer’s life style and what problems they are experiencing as part of their decision-making. As far as expense, he shared that adults in nursing homes on Medicaid can get financial assistance with purchasing a hearing aid.

K. Cassidy said as a representative of adults over 50, she believes needing a hearing aid is similar to needing glasses, with the tiered approach. Buying “cheater” glasses from a drug store is similar to purchasing a hearing aid on the internet. If either does not work, the consumer may go to a qualified doctor. She stated it might be helpful to look at other professions that deal with patients on an individual level. A. Orsene stated that the assumption that hearing aids purchased on the internet are cheaper is not true. In addition to that expense, they also must pay for the professional services portion of that purchase. She believes board members should be more concerned with hearing aids purchased on the internet not fitting properly, in which case they may end up going to a specialist and have to pay again for a new hearing aid. On the other hand, they may buy a cheaper aid over the internet which does not work or fit properly, and may end up discouraged enough to not go to a professional for service. She said that it is important that this board enforce what is already in the law, that mail order sales of hearing aids is prohibited.

M. Vigil thanked board members and consumer representatives for their sharing of information. He said that representatives from the department have been traveling throughout NYS as a way to share information with consumers on various issues, and some have been asked questions by senior citizens about the sale of hearing aids over the internet. He believes the board should put together a subcommittee to do research with the department on this issue. He suggested they also research how neighboring states are handling this issue, and how NYS would regulate this issue. He suggested board members may be helpful in educating consumers on the hearing aid dispenser practice and internet sales. The subcommittee that was formed at a previous meeting to research and develop a recommendation for the internet sale of hearing aids will also look into educating consumers. Subcommittee members are W. Clark, E. Aleo, F. Butler, A. Macera, and A. Orsene. W. Clark will schedule a conference call in the near future.

E. Aleo spoke about allowing out of state experience and said that he believes that individuals from outside NYS with five years of experience should be accepted for licensing in NYS in lieu of two years of college, and required to take only the ear mold exam. He feels NYS should be less restrictive so that more dispensers are available to service hearing aid users. Also, he believes that a person licensed from another state with three or more years of experience and two years of college should be accepted for licensing in NYS and required to take only the ear mold exam. He believes this can be accomplished by regulation because section 790, Article 37-A General Business Law currently states “…two years college accredited coursework or its equivalent” so equivalent can be defined in a regulation to include the above information. Department counsel first needs to decide if this can be accomplished by a statute or regulation change. Once that decision is made, a subcommittee can look into how this can be accomplished. Subcommittee members are W. Clark, E. Aleo, K. Cassidy, and M. Mastrobuono.

V. PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD

G. Myers spoke briefly to say that her office was willing to work with the Department on the sale of internet hearing aids, and would like to review any proposals about this issue.

VI. NEW BUSINESS

There was no new business.

VII. ADJOURNMENT

The meeting was adjourned at 12:35 p.m.