Seniors urge hearing aid subsidies for Nova Scotia

Seniors citizens in Nova Scotia say they want the provincial government to join other provinces in subsidizing the cost of their hearing aids and being more transparent when it comes to pricing.

Yukon and Quebec offer full coverage on the cost of hearing aids for seniors, while eight other provinces and territories provide varying levels of subsidy to seniors who are not on income assistance.

Only Nova Scotia and Manitoba provide no coverage for seniors' hearing aids, which can cost anywhere from $1,500 to more than $8,000.

Nova Scotia will pay for hearing tests under the Medical Services Insurance Program, as long as the test is done at one of the province's clinics. The wait time for children is about three months and six months for adults.

Paula Keating, a 77-year-old woman who lives in Halifax, said she recently paid more than $1,800 for a hearing aid by scrimping and saving for years.

"It's expensive," she said.

"People when they need them, they just can't afford them which is especially people on fixed income."

Robert Corbeil, the national executive director of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, said he wants a federal law that will require transparency and uniformity in pricing.

"What we'd like to do is to be able to establish a minimum and hopefully work with each province, but establish kind of a level at the national level," he told CBC News.

"There's no real structure in terms of pricing and some people will advertise 50 per cent off on hearing aids and the other ideology will say, 'No, we're not promoting price, we're promoting quality.'"

At least one online retailer told CBC News hearing aids typically cost manufacturers between $50 and $200.

Audiologists and other hearing specialists have attributed the thousands of dollars in cost difference to other services they provide, such as testing, fitting, programming and follow-up appointments.

In Nova Scotia, the specialists also pass along a dispensing fee that they pay, which can be three or four times what the manufacturer's costs are.

Keating said the bill for her hearing aid didn't provide a breakdown in price.

"When I was tested the last time for the new hearing aid, they didn't charge me. They said, 'Well the cost is included in the hearing aid.' So they say it's not being charged but it's a hidden charge," she said.

"It doesn't make sense to me."

The Speech and Hearing Association of Nova Scotia is urging the government to regulate audiologists to set standards and give people a way to file complaints if they think their audiologist had acted unethically.

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