3 March 2020

Government can boost workforce by expanding hearing services program to low income earners

(Canberra) More than 8000 people could return to the workforce if financially vulnerable1 Australians had access to the national Hearing Services Program (HSP), according to the Hearing Care Industry Association (HCIA).

To help raise awareness of hearing health and impairment this World Hearing Day and during Hearing Awareness Week HCIA commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to update the 2017 social and economic costs of hearing loss and calculate a new eligibility for the HSP for vulnerable Australians. The resulting 2020 HCIA Hearing for Life report found that the number of Australians with hearing loss is 3.95 million people in 2019‑20 – or 15.3% of the population – a 9.7% increase from 3.6 million people in 2017.

The estimated financial cost of hearing loss to the Australian economy in 2020 is $20 billion. HCIA believes that the Federal Government has a practicable opportunity to address the known economic and social impacts of hearing loss, as well as a strong case to expand access to the HSP for vulnerable Australians.

HCIA Acting Chair, Janet Muir, said the current eligibility criteria for the HSP misses a crucial group of Australians. Extending the HSP to people on a low income aged between 26-64 years of age would deliver a significant $12.30 of financial benefit to Australian society for every $1 invested.

“More than a third of all hearing loss and impairment is preventable. Addressing hearing loss in its early stages is demonstrated to significantly improve opportunities across a person’s life, particularly their ongoing participation in the workforce, along with their social and emotional wellbeing,” Ms Muir said.

Nearly all Australians of working age with hearing loss are ineligible for hearing health care under the Hearing Services Program (HSP). Most beneficiaries of the HSP are on the age pension and a smaller proportion are eligible under other special criteria.

An extension of the HSP would provide access to hearing health care for an estimated 13,523 people. Hearing loss can lead to premature retirement, a greater number of sick days and diminished capacity to work productively due to an impaired ability or psychological stress.

Extending the HSP to 13,523 financially vulnerable Australians aged 26-64 years would cost the Government $25.3 million annually. Deloitte Access Economics’ modelling found that extension of the program and provision of hearing health care and devices to financially vulnerable Australians free of charge would likely assist 8,091 people into employment. This investment would deliver an estimated 10.6 to 1 return in Government benefits relative to Government costs.

Jenny O’Connor (VIC) has lived with hearing loss for more than 25 years, unable to afford hearing health care and without eligibility for the Hearing Services Program.

“My hearing loss has affected every aspect of my life. It impacted my education, isolated me from my family, friends and community, and caused me an extraordinary amount of frustration and anxiety. 10 years ago, I was forced to borrow money for hearing devices, but I couldn’t afford to replace them,” she said.

“Thanks to a special program with my audiologist, I was gifted new devices and support last year. Hearing should be a fundamental part of healthcare, especially when you don’t have a lot of money. I won’t be able to get back the years I lost due to impacts of my hearing loss, however without my new devices, I wouldn’t have the confidence to be doing what I am doing today.”

HCIA’s Hearing for Life report also found that people of working age with hearing loss, in the prime of their productive years, are over-represented as unemployed or under-employed, or experience increased levels of absenteeism and presenteeism in their current jobs2.

Employment prospects are significantly lower for Australians between 26-64 years of age who live with a hearing loss and struggle on a low-income. This factor has a direct and escalating impact on their financial and social vulnerability and their dependence on social, health and welfare services.

“Expanding eligibility for the Hearing Services Program to low income Australians of working age with hearing loss is recognised as a priority in the Roadmap for Hearing Health3 prepared for the Government in 2019,” Ms Muir added. “It has also been suggested in bipartisan recommendations from two Parliamentary inquiries (2010 and 2017).”

The number of Australians living with hearing loss is forecast to increase to 4.43 million by 2025, and will nearly double by 2066 to 7.78 million Australians. The increases are largely driven by our ageing population. The combined direct financial cost and wellbeing impact4 on the 3.95 million Australians who have hearing loss is estimated to be $41.2 billion in 2020, or $10,430 per person with hearing loss.

“Participation in the workforce is crucial to everyone’s financial and social wellbeing, and for the community and country as a whole. Good hearing health is proven to extend a person’s life, decrease illness, help avoid welfare dependency, and boost the national economy overall,” said Ms Muir.

Download report here www.hcia.com.au/hearing_for_life/

About HCIA

HCIA is the Hearing Care Industry Association. Its vision is to serve the Australian community by facilitating the delivery of world-class hearing healthcare to all Australians. HCIA represents hearing healthcare providers in Australia. Its members fit around 60% of the hearing devices used in Australia, operating at more than 700 locations across the country and employing more than 800 hearing professionals. HCIA aims to better inform policy development; grow awareness of the value of the industry and provide a public voice on hearing related matters. HCIA works closely with government, the public service, the media, other professional bodies, and the public. HCIA’s member organisations operate independently of each other.

1 Australians who earn less than $37,000 per annum – ATO definition
2 Ibid – page 23
3 Roadmap for Hearing Health – Hearing Health Sector Committee
4 HCIA 2020, Hearing for Life – The value of hearing services for vulnerable Australians (prepared with assistance from Deloitte Access Economics, Canberra). Calculation includes direct financial costs, and the value of the wellbeing impact of hearing loss.