Calling for the replacement of Cochlear Implant speech processors to be covered under medicare in Manitoba
At noon, on Thursday October 7, there was a rally at the Manitoba Legislature calling for the coverage of replacements for the speech processor for Cochlear Implants. This coverage has been needed for some time now. My question the in the Manitoba Legislature and the petition I read the same day are below:
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, hearing is critical for communication among our fellow human beings. Everything possible must be done to ensure our elders can maintain their hearing in their senior years.
At a rally at the Legislature today, Gladys Nielsen and many others called for the provincial government to cover the cost of updating the software, the processors in their cochlear implants. These should be covered under medicare so that they–these individuals with cochlear implants can continue to hear. Petitions signed by 1,000 Manitobans, which Manitoba Liberals have read in this Chamber, support this.
I ask the Minister of Health: Will she ensure the cost of covering the cochlear implant upgrades–the processors–will be included in the health-care budget this coming year?
Hon. Audrey Gordon (Minister of Health and Seniors Care): I thank the member from River Heights for the question.
I've had the pleasure, in my capacity as the Minister of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery, now in this capacity as Minister of Health and Seniors Care, to meet with the Seniors Coalition. They've shared with me many issues and concerns and innovative solutions to address health-care concerns such as cochlear implants. We have taken this under advisement.
We continue to talk with our health insurance branch within my department, and we will continue to address concerns for seniors, vulnerable populations here in our province, Madam Speaker.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I wish to present the following petition to the Legislative Assembly.
The background to this petition is as follows:
People who suffer hearing loss due to aging, illness, employment or accident not only lose the ability to communicate effectively with friends, relatives or colleagues; they also can experience unemployment, social isolation and struggles with mental health.
A cochlear implant is a life-changing electronic device that allows deaf people to receive and process sounds and speech, and also can partially restore hearing in people who have severe hearing loss and who do not benefit from conventional hearing aids. A processor behind the ear captures and processes sound signals which are transmitted to a receiver implanted into the skull that relays the information to the inner ear, the cochlea.
The technology has been available since 1989 through the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic, founded in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Surgical Hearing Implant program began implanting patients in the fall of 2011 and marked the completion of 250 cochlear implant surgeries in Manitoba in the summer of 2018. The program has implanted about 60 devices since the summer of 2018, as it is only able to implant about 40 to 45 devices per year.
There are no up-front costs to Manitoba residents who proceed with cochlear implant surgery, as Manitoba Health covers the surgical procedure, internal implant and the first external sound processor. Newfoundland and Manitoba have the highest estimated implantation costs of all provinces.
Alberta has one of the best programs with Alberta aids for daily living, and their cost share means the patient pays only approximately $500 out of pocket. Assistive Devices Program in Ontario covers 75 per cent of the cost, up to a maximum amount of $5,444, for a cochlear implant replacement speech processor. The BC Adult Cochlear Implant Program offers subsidized replacements to aging sound processors through the Sound Processor Replacement program. This provincially funded program is available to those cochlear implant recipients whose sound processors have reached six to seven years old.
The cochlear implant is a lifelong commitment. However, as the technology changes over time, parts and software become no longer functional or available. The cost of upgrading a cochlear implant in Manitoba of approximately $11,000 is much more expensive than in other provinces, as adult patients are responsible for the upgrade costs of their sound processor.
In Manitoba, pediatric patients under 18 years of age are eligible for funding assistance through the Cochlear Implant Speech Processor Replacement Program, which provides up to 80 per cent of the replacement costs associated with a device upgrade.
It is unreasonable that this technology is inaccessible to many citizens of Manitoba who must choose between hearing and deafness due to financial constraints because the costs of maintaining the equipment are prohibitive for low-income earners or those on a fixed income, such as old age pension or Employment and Income Assistance.
We petition the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba as follows:
To urge the provincial government to provide financing for upgrades to the cochlear implant covered under medicare, or provide funding assistance through the Cochlear Implant Speech Processor Replacement Program to assist with the replacement costs associated with a device upgrade.
Signed by Brian Mashinter, Sheri Armour, Joyce Coreau and many, many other Manitobans.
Madam Speaker: In accordance with our rule 133(6), when petitions are read they are deemed to be received by the House.