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Carolyn McCarthy helped hearing aid makers in health bill

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) is the hearing-aid industry's best friend in Congress as Democrats wrestle with health care legislation.

Just before Christmas, McCarthy persuaded 110 House colleagues to sign a letter requesting that hearing aids - and other items in a class of supplies such as bandages and latex gloves - be exempted from the tax on medical device manufacturers in the House's health care overhaul bill.

It was not the first time McCarthy has gone to bat for hearing aids. In each of the past two years, she has introduced a bill to give a $500 tax break for hearing aid purchases for children and the elderly.

The Hearing Industries Association has been appreciative. Its political action committee, Hear PAC, chose her as one of the first five lawmakers for a campaign donation when it first gave money in early 2008. In the past two years it has given her $5,000 as one of about 30 recipients of campaign funds.

In an interview, McCarthy acknowledged she has become "the go-to person" in the House for hearing-aid legislation.

"I got interested in this because I had to get hearing aids two years ago," McCarthy said. "And I'll be honest with you - I was shocked at how expensive it was."

Hearing aids cost about $2,000 for a pair and most insurers and Medicare don't cover them, she said.

As to the hearing industry campaign contributions, McCarthy said until campaigns are publicly financed, "trying to raise money to run a race is something you've got to do."

After she began to work on the hearing-aid issue, she said, "A couple of years ago I just called them up and asked them to help me out."

- Tom Brune

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