December 16, 2008 Feature

Universal Hearing Health Care

Where Do Audiology and Hearing Aids Fit?

The presidential election in the United States last month capped months of campaigning on a number of issues, including health care. Various models were debated: universal health care subsidized by the federal government, a public-private partnership, and our current model of private-sector health care.

Campaign rhetoric included criticism of various health care programs around the world: the U.S. system for unequal access and skyrocketing insurance premiums, the Canadian universal system for long waiting times for services, and the Swedish system for high costs and high taxes. What has not been discussed in the debate is "hearing health care," a term used by the World Health Organization and other countries to describe the management of hearing and ear problems.

As we focus on change and political transition, the debate goes on. Should there be "universal health care" in the United States? Should there be universal hearing health care? How will audiology and hearing aid dispensing fit into the picture? To help answer these questions, we can look to other countries for models as well as advice and historical evidence, and examine some of the most extensive hearing health care models in some of the largest countries in the world.

I provide an overview of the Canadian system, which may be familiar, and professionals from four other locations—Western Europe (United Kingdom), South America (Brazil), Asia (China), and Eastern Europe (Russia)—discuss systems in their countries. All of the systems are publically funded with a private-sector component.

Universal health care—and the role of audiology within that model—is a serious matter and the role of our profession is vital.

George T. Mencher, article coordinator


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