The Impact of Recent Changes in WSIB on Workers in need of Hearing Aids

There have been multiple reports recently of workers’ claims being denied by WSIB due to the inappropriate use of bone conduction thresholds. What this has meant for workers seeking assistance with their hearing is either an outright refusal or having to choose from a smaller collection of hearing aids than what was available prior. Current changes in WSIB policies have significantly reduced performance in the types of hearing aids available and has seen many workers be denied fair coverage.

#fair4workers is a campaign that we would like to pledge our support to and we encourage our readers to do so as well. #fair4workers highlights where current provincial policies have fallen short. Calculating a worker’s eligibility for noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) as well as non-economic loss benefit (NEL) claims, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario (WSIB) has been allowed to use bone conduction results. As a hearing health care organization, we cannot support this practice as bone conduction test results do not indicate how a patient hears nor does it give any indication of how strong a patient’s hearing may be. These tests are typically used to determine whether a patient’s hearing loss is conductive, sensorineural, or mixed. It is unclear currently as to whether the WSIB has chosen to change their policy surrounding hearing health care due to an attempt to save money or because of a lack of expertise on the subject matter.

The results of this change however has seen injured workers be denied NIHL coverage; be awarded hearing aids but denied the NEL benefit; or have seen changes made to their NEL benefit. The WSIB has used this practice since 2003 under the false belief that bone conduction thresholds and air conduction match – something that has been long disproven in the hearing health care industry.

In addition to this practice, beginning on January, 9, 2017, workers who are given their benefits are now only able to select between three manufacturers – Bernafon, Phonak, and Sivantos. This is an ethically controversial decision as it demonstrates WSIB influencing the prescription process, pre-selecting hearing aids for patients with whom they do not have the authority or expertise to guide, and shows an undermining of the education, training, and experience of hearing healthcare professionals. This is also a clear violation of the Regulated Health Professions Act, showing further interference from the WSIB into the hearing health care industry in Ontario.

As hearing health care professionals, we stand with #fair4workers in calling for an end to the unfair handling of patients’ care by WSIB and to address the economic-influenced decisions being made by WSIB officials that disadvantages patients from receiving the most appropriate care for them.

Ontario workers suffering from noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) have been unfairly targeted by the WSIB throughout the past eight years, seeing their benefits reduced little by little. As these changes have affected not only patients but the hearing health care industry in Ontario, it is our duty to stand up for the rights of our patients. The new WSIB changes have put professionals at our hearing health care practice in a tough spot as the economic-influenced decisions related to NIHL in Ontario goes against ethical standards and regulatory guidelines maintained in the industry.

Through our part in the efforts from the Ontario hearing health care industry, we hope to encourage a major change in how patients are handled. Please take a few minutes to view the #fair4workers website and join us in our campaign to seek fairness for all workers in Ontario.

We pledge our support behind the #fair4workers campaign in seeking a review of the current NIHL program.