Advocating for cochlear implant coverage


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/06/2022 (345 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Many people owe a debt of gratitude to Gladys Nielsen, who came to me two years ago with her concern that she and many others with cochlear implants need, or will in the near future, replacement processors.

A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device which helps people with inner ear damage who cannot be sufficiently helped with a hearing aid. Cochlear implants use sound processors that fit behind the ear. The processor captures sound signals and sends them to a receiver implanted under the skin behind the ear. The receiver then sends the signals to electrodes implanted in the snail-shaped inner ear, the cochlear.

At some point in the life span of a cochlear implant, the processor for the implant needs to be replaced. This costs more than $10,000, a big and almost-impossible expense for an older person on a fixed income.

Gladys Nielsen helped lead the fight for cochlear implant replacement coverage under Medicare.

Together, Gladys and I set to work to advocate for provincial funding under Medicare for a major portion of the replacement processor’s cost. We began by putting together a petition. In due course, Gladys collected more than 1,000 signatures. Between October 2020 and the budget in April 2022, my colleague Cindy Lamoureux, MLA for Tyndall Park, and I read more than 40 petitions in the Legislature. This effort was complimented by a rally at the legislature in October 2021, by questions in the Manitoba legislature, and then an appearance by Gladys at the finance minister’s pre-budget consultations.

Why was this so important? Without processor replacements, Gladys and many others like her with cochlear implants could find themselves completely unable to hear. Fortunately, the finance minister and health minister also realized the importance of provincial funding for cochlear implant processors. A sentence in the budget of 2022 indicated the government was ready to move ahead with the funding. On Thursday, June 9, the funding was finally formally announced. It was a wonderful day for Gladys and for many others with cochlear implants.

Too often we take our hearing for granted. It makes an incredible difference in a person’s life to have a cochlear implant working. The joys of hearing are many, including being able to understand and easily talk to others and to be a part of a social group.

All my life I have been particularly conscious of the importance of hearing. My youngest brother was born with a hearing difficulty. My father, in his last 10 years, needed a hearing aid. Toward the end of his life, he could hear very little if his hearing aid was not in place or not working properly.

I am grateful to my colleagues in the legislature – Dougald Lamont, leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, as well as Cindy Lamoureux, and our staff, particularly Shandi Strong, for the help they have provided in this effort to help others.

There are more steps needed to help those who have difficulty hearing. For many, the answer is a hearing aid rather than a cochlear implant. We need to move forward in having provincial support for hearing aids so that they are affordable for those who need them. There will be more petitions to come and more steps to take in the Manitoba Liberal Party’s effort to help people hear.

Jon Gerrard

Jon Gerrard
River Heights constituency report

Jon Gerrard is Liberal MLA for River Heights.

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