Individuals with cochlear implants want Sask. authorities assist for upgrades, advocate says

Saskatchewan’s Opposition NDP is questioning why the province covers cochlear implant upgrades differently from replacements for health devices such as pacemakers and prosthetics.

Right now the province covers the cost of the initial device, surgery and related audiology services.

But replacement costs are not covered.

The province says people should use private medical insurance to cover upgrades.

Rod Rossmo of Regina, who had a cochlear implant in 2014, says he will need to upgrade his device, which will cost about $11,000.

He says he got a letter from the company that manufactured his implant, saying the processor in that implant is going to be discontinued.

“So in other words, if I do not convert, there will be no service or supply around the present processor,” said Rossmo, who joined the NDP at the legislature on Tuesday.

“If it breaks down — and it will break down — I will now be deaf.”

Cochlear implants bypass the ear by gathering sounds through small microphones and sending them as electrical impulses through an implant connected to the auditory nerve. In other words, they simulate normal hearing. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Rossmo said he can afford the upgrade, but many families in Saskatchewan don’t have that kind of money.

“It’s outrageous that Cochlear [the manufacturer] can just say that now I have to trade my processor and there’s no government funding in this province for technological upgrades.”

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat said the province should be paying for the upgrades.

“Health technology, such as pacemakers and prosthetics, are covered provincially as this technology wears out. Why would the government not consider this as a similar requirement for Rod’s health?” Mowat asked Health Minister Paul Merriman during question period.

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat says the province should be paying for upgrades to cochlear implants. (CBC)

Merriman said he was willing to meet with Rossmo to discuss his concerns.

“As far as the replacement costs, this is something that I’ll have to look into the specifics of it,” he said.

Merriman said the Saskatchewan Party government has made strides by funding the initial costs of cochlear implants and screening infants for hearing problems.

But Rossmo said more needs to be done.

“I didn’t have hearing for 17 months while I was waiting for implants,” he said. “How would you do your work? How would you negotiate your relationship? My wife and I did not speak in any way, shape or form for 17 months.”

“What I need from the government, what the cochlear community needs from the government, is for the government to hear we have a real medical issue.”

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman says he is willing to meet with Rod Rossmo to discuss his concerns regarding the costs to upgrade his cochlear implant. (CBC)

Rossmo said cochlear implants are not hearing aids.

“They don’t amplify sound. They process sound…. It allows people and children who would not have the benefit of hearing to hear and live in a world of sound.

“The technological upgrades are part of the cochlear world. We need to find a way to fund this.”

Mowat said when the government phased out the Hearing Aid Plan back in 2017, many people lost a number of supports. That included the loss of audiologists who “moved to greener pastures,” she said.

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