Legislative Update – Licensure Issues

“On April 20, Pacific Legal Foundation announced a federal lawsuit challenging Florida’s Hearing Aid Licensing rules. The case is Taylor v. Polhill and it pits Dan Taylor, a licensed hearing instrument specialist, against Florida’s Board of Hearing Aid Specialists and Board of Health…

Citing outdated Florida hearing aid dispensing laws, Dan Taylor, a Melbourne, Florida hearing instrument specialist with 30 years of experience, filed a federal lawsuit. Taylor’s lawsuit argues that Florida’s licensing regulations increases cost and reduce access to hearing aids for consumers. Additionally, the lawsuit argues that the Florida hearing aid regulations are preempted by federal laws, which are aimed at reducing unnecessary regulation.”

Reprinted from B. Taylor, Hearing Health Matters, April, 2018 (http://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingnewswatch/2018/federal-lawsuit-florida-hearing-aid-dispenser-lawsuit-regulations/)

Licensure means a restricted practice or a restriction on the use of an occupational title.  It is an official permit to do, use, or own something.  The legal right to practice as an audiologist is defined by the State license.  Florida was the first State in the U.S. to enact legislation creating a license for audiologists in 1969.

In 1990, the American Academy of Audiology adopted policies to transition Audiology to an autonomous healthcare profession.  Among the challenges and strategies was having the legal right to practice defined across the nation by the state license.  This was the course followed by other independent healthcare professions.   Through the hard work of audiologists across the country, Audiology Licensure has been enacted in every State.  Today, like other independent healthcare professions, certification is voluntary and the legal right to practice is defined by the state license.

Along with defining our legal right to practice by the State License, has come our transition to a doctoral profession with the Au.D. recognized as our entry-level degree by the U.S. Department of Education; recognition as an independent and autonomous healthcare profession by the U.S. Department of Labor; and recognition by the private and some government insurance programs as independent providers.  These are important landmarks transitioning Audiology from a technician-level occupation of the 1960s-70s to an independent healthcare profession today.

The recent passage of federal legislation that included the new category of Over the Counter hearing aids also pre-empts state licensure for persons with mild to moderate hearing loss acquiring hearing aids.  That is, the new legislation does not require individuals seeking a hearing aid to see a licensed provider.  Instead, products can be fit and sold by unlicensed individuals.  This appears to be the intent of the Taylor v Polhill lawsuit.  To undermine the state license would mean an elimination of consumer protections and would permit anyone to provide hearing care services, with or without training.

The recently passed OTC legislation pre-empts state licensure with the belief that this is a solution to make hearing care more affordable and accessible.  It was a product-centric legislation that did not place a value on the services of audiologists.  Licensed audiologists were not viewed as having value to individuals with hearing loss seeking amplification.  This legislation and the Taylor v. Polhill lawsuit are attacks on the consumer protections put in place by legislatures across the country and undermine the legal right to practice of licensed professionals.

At the upcoming FLAA meeting in Orlando in August, we will have a presentation from the Facilitator of the Professional Association Working Group (AAA, ASHA, ADA), that is developing a white paper to the FDA which is establishing policies and guidelines in response to the OTC legislation.  Please try to attend.  Your future as independent providers of hearing and balance care is being challenged and your input is valued.

About the 2018 FLAA Convention: Get ready for the 22nd Annual Florida Academy of Audiology Convention – “Go for the Gold – Setting the Standard!” – from August 2-4, 2018, once again at the wonderful Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek in Orlando, Florida for an inside look at key issues and educational approaches through presentations by some of the finest in our industry. Registration opening this month! Click here to access our At-A-Glance schedule.  Don’t Miss “Hot Topics in Audiology” on Friday, August 3rd which will cover OTC legislation.