The Value of Hearing Aids vs. The Cost of Untreated Hearing Loss
In February, 2013, the cost of hearing aids made Canadian news. You may have heard the report that aired on CBC Radio Nova Scotia or read the CBC Manitoba article Hearing aid subsidies vary in Canada, fall short in Manitoba.
Following those stories, it came to our attention that CBC's Marketplace also intended to address the issue. At that point, we weren't sure how the story would unfold; though given what we had heard from individuals interviewed for the story, we did not suspect a balanced approach to the issue. Unfortunately, our suspicions were verified when the episode aired.
We, at SAC, were incredibly disappointed with the way this story was handled. In our opinion, it did not comply with CBC's journalistic standards. Below is a summary of our actions on this issue:
- February 8: We sent an email to members letting them know that the next CBC Marketplace episode would discuss the high cost of hearing aids.
- February 14: We sent another email to members expressing our disappointment with the episode and asking for information on billing practices, services, fees and the costs of hearing aids to help us file an informed complaint with the CBC ombudsman.
- March 6: We sent a third Flash to members, informing them that we submitted a letter of complaint to the CBC ombudsman. During the first phase of the formal complaint process, the ombudsman's office sent our letter to the Executive Producer of CBC Marketplace, giving her 20 working days to respond.
- March 22: We provided members with a brief update on the CBC complaint process and let them know we had developed a new tool to help audiologists field questions about the cost of hearing aids (Infographic: Cost of Hearing Loss Versus Value of Hearing Aids).
- April 11: We received a response from Tassie Notar, Executive Producer of Marketplace, which we felt was completely unacceptable. She did not acknowledge or take responsibility for CBC's poorly researched and potentially damaging journalism. Moreover, her letter further criticized SAC, our members and our staff. We have included excerpts from Ms. Notar’s letter below.
- June 26: Unsatisfied with the response we received from the Executive Producer, we requested a formal review of the case by the CBC ombudsman.
- August 6: We asked the ombudsman’s office for an update on the status of our file. The ombudsman apologized for the delay, explaining that many of the Marketplace staff, who must be interviewed, have been on vacation. She assured us that the review will begin very soon and thanked us for our patience given the longer-than-usual time frame.
- September 12: We included a piece in our member newsletter to let members know that we had received the ombudsman's response and to give a summary of her findings.
The ombudsman, Ms. Esther Enkin, agreed with many of our concerns, including that the episode was an "oversimplification of a complex problem" and that "It did not provide enough context to explain the perspective of service providers and manufacturers”. However, she also told us that she would not pursue our case any further. Read the ombudsman's full complaint review here.
Although we are somewhat disappointed with this outcome — we would have liked to receive a public apology and have CBC pull the episode from its future programming schedules — we are pleased that our complaint has been posted on the CBC website and that the ombudsman has publicly acknowledged many of our grievances.
For our response to CBC, our follow-up on the issue and our efforts to better inform the public on this issue, The Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) awarded SAC their 2013 Associations Make a Better Canada Award in the Public Information/Education category. As the award description states, "[our efforts] enhanced public understanding about the efficiency, quality and safety of products and services."
“We take very seriously any assertion that our journalism is inaccurate, biased or unfair, or in any way fails to meet the rigorous criteria set out in the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices. Where criticisms are justified, we take immediate corrective action. However, in this case – and I say this with respect – I strongly disagree with your assessment of the program."
“When it comes to dealing with their health or their family’s health consumers may be more vulnerable. We believe the program throws new light on a subject that is often not clear; indeed, one that some feel has been deliberately obfuscated."
“Far from 'deterring' people from buying a hearing aid, as you assert it does, in fact we believe it empowers them. It offers Canadians the kind of insights that can help them to make informed choices and give them greater confidence when purchasing a hearing aid."
“You wrote that 'the episode criticized [SAC] as being uncooperative and passing [Marketplace] off to businesses without answering their questions'. SAC was never mentioned in the program. […]To say that your organization suggested we ask someone who sells hearing aids about prices is both accurate and fair. It does not imply that you are being uncooperative."
“'The narrator’s claim that no one agreed to speak on camera is a complete falsehood'. We were 'never offered the opportunity', you wrote. We did not ask your organization, because you had already made it clear that you would not or could not talk about pricing.”
Please note that these documents were created when SAC was called the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (CASLPA).