ACC claimant's new hope for hearing aid funding

By Nicki Harper

Central Hawke's Bay man Bill Stevenson is one of a group of 10 claimants represented by The National Foundation for the Deaf who are awaiting confirmation on when a Human Rights Tribunal hearing will proceed.

The Accident Compensation Corporation is facing legal action over noise-related hearing loss thresholds introduced in 2010.

Having completed Human Rights Commission mediation, the group hopes publicly-funded specialist lawyers from the Office of Human Rights Proceedings will pick up their case, in which they allege that ACC is discriminating against people who are hearing impaired.

Stevenson says he was "one of those unlucky buggers" who suffered industrial hearing loss after working for 15 years at the Takapau freezing works.

In 1997, he qualified for hearing aids on a contract to get a new set every five years.

"The second set came through okay, but when it came to the third set I was told I could not get any more until the current hearing aids were stuffed."

He says he accepted that but then his audiologist sent a letter to ACC to ask about getting them replaced.

Stevenson was sent to an ACC ear, nose and throat specialist and a report came back that attributed a higher proportion of his hearing loss to non-injury causes.

"I was told I wasn't entitled to as much funding towards the hearing aids because I was getting older, but I have had hearing tests all the way through from 1997 and there has been very little variation."

Not content with that, Stevenson went to another independent ear, nose and throat specialist who presented a very different finding.

Despite this, ACC's contribution towards new hearing aids has continued to decline, with Stevenson now facing a $2800 bill towards hearing aids valued at about $6400 (with ACC contributing about $3600).

These are not the best hearing aids for him though, he says. Those are worth about $8000.

"I'm concerned that they changed the rules yet all of us have industrial hearing loss and this should be funded."

The National Foundation for the Deaf chief executive Louise Carroll says Stevenson's case is mirrored by thousands around the country.

"The Act is discriminatory - you can't say that someone has to prove they have a percentage of a disability before you give them help."

Under ACC's threshold, which was introduced in July 2010, a person must have a hearing loss of at least 6 per cent before the organisation will consider a claim.

The age scale deducts a percentage from the total hearing loss depending on the person's age, and whether or not the hearing loss is age-related.

"Six per cent may not sound like much but it often falls within the human voice range," says Carroll.

"As a result some people have up to 25 per cent functional loss, but it only shows up as 6 per cent on an audiogram."

Stevenson says he got involved to represent other people in the same position as him.

"I do not think it is fair."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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