The gaping dental shaped hole in the Australian healthcare system is a frequent point of contention and the more you look into it, the scope of Medicare coverage seems to narrow. Audiology is an essential service not entirely covered by Medicare, but that may soon change
Hearing health is a chronically overlooked aspect of our healthcare here in Australia but the Federal Government is set to include hearing health as part of general health and screening programs by 2024 due to growing concern around the prevalence of hearing issues. This is just one reason allied health operator Healthia (ASX: HLA) is set to open their first audiometry clinics as an extension of their existing optometry services.
“The ‘Ears’ side of the Eyes & Ears division is also an exciting new market for Healthia which we have been working on behind the scenes as we focus on integrating the division first,” said Healthia CEO, Wesley Coote.
“We were pleased to welcome Healthia’s first audiometrist as part of plans to open our first co-located audiology clinics in Geelong and Warrnambool soon.”
Co-location is a big part of Healthia’s growth strategy which has seen the Company increase its allied health businesses from 100 when listing on the ASX in 2018, to now have more than 200 across the country. By adding optometry services within existing clinics, Healthia is set to capitalise on the rising need for hearing health services as Australia’s aging population starts to feel the pinch.
In Australia 3.6 million people, or 14.5% of the population suffer from hearing loss*. This is expected to increase by more than double to 7.8 million by 2060. More than 1.3 million people live with a preventable hearing condition. These are commonly age related or from exposure to loud noise. 37% of our total population have noise related ear damage.
There is an increasing incidence of hearing loss due to our ageing population however, other causes include congenital causes, use of particular drugs, physical trauma, ear wax accumulation and diseases such as meningitis, chronic ear infections, measles and mumps.
According to the World Health Organisation hearing loss is the most common disability in new born children worldwide. Access Economics estimates that the prevalence of hearing impairment in children is likely to increase by 7.5% from 2005-2050. Almost half of all child hearing loss is preventable.
Hearing loss is more prevalent in men than in women due to higher exposure to workplace noise. The National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance Survey found that “28-32% of Australian workers are likely to work in an environment where they are exposed to non-trivial loud noise.” Except, not all employees make WorkCover claims for hearing related issues from work as they are difficult to prove.
The average age of people with hearing loss who access hearing services via the Commonwealth Government is 79. This is concerning considering that half of the Australians with hearing loss are younger than 65.
The government is all too aware of these issues. The Australian Government Hearing Services Program works to reduce the incidence of avoidable hearing loss by providing access to devices and services for eligible people. The Program provides established clinical care guidelines for a variety of ear health issues for clinicians to follow.
The Federal Government’s Roadmap for Hearing Health published in 2019 includes key prevention measures for hearing health on a national level such as:
- Researching and aligning codes of practice across the country to develop a national mechanism to monitor hearing loss prevention
- Incorporating noise reduction and control measures into urban planning
- Developing a national regulatory framework to regulate occupational noise exposure levels
Anticipating the Government’s increased emphasis on the importance of hearing health, Healthia is set to add even more audiology services to the already holistic suite of clinics they run as part of their floor space optimisation strategy. This operates alongside their acquisition initiative where the operator has committed $20 million in new business acquisitions each year and specifically targets businesses they are confident they can optimise with co-location and additional services.
Together, the market for optometry and audiology services is valued at $3.3 billion annually with Healthia set to increase their market share from just 1.5% when they acquired The Optical Company last year, but have already commenced acquiring new optometry business and co-locating new services.
The incorporation of audiology services not only supports communities with their hearing health but opens Healthia up to increased revenue opportunities and cross referrals. Hearing checks are quick, easy and minimally invasive. Hearing aids are commonly required and need yearly maintenance and therefore represent ongoing revenue.
*Owners of this website are HLA shareholders
Private market hearing aids:
- 200,000 hearing aids in circulation for people between ages of 25-64 who had hearing loss AND a hearing aids in 2017
- People usually upgrade every 5 yrs, about 40,000 new hearing aids entered the private market in 2017
- Average cost of an aid: $3,000+
Estimated total private market expenditure on hearing aids was $121 million in 2017. (ONLY cost of aid, does not include cost of maintenance or hearing assessment)
- Cost of hearing assessment: $16.1 million
- Cost of hearing aid fittings: $10.5 million
*Source: Report by Deloitte, commissioned by The Hearing Care Industry Association in 2017
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