Nebraska Lawmakers Heard This Doctor’s Call for Licensing Reform

After serving our country as a combat medic, an experience Joshua Sevier had in college changed the course of his medical career. While attending a national meeting of his fraternity, he learned that one campus had a chapter led by deaf students.

“That was the first time I had encountered a deaf person before in my entire life. I got frustrated that I couldn’t communicate with them,” he said.

That drove Joshua to study American Sign Language and learn more about audiology, the study and treatment of hearing loss and hearing disorders.

After completing his residency at the University of Chicago, now-Dr. Joshua Sevier took a position as Staff Research Audiologist at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha. At Boys Town, audiologists like Dr. Sevier are using cochlear implants to help deaf patients acquire hearing that they would be unable to experience with regular hearing aids.

“For a lot of people that have never heard before, or haven’t heard in twenty, thirty years, it’s very overwhelming,” said Dr. Sevier.

But despite the cutting-edge nature of their work, outdated occupational licensing laws were creating interference for Dr. Sevier and his fellow audiologists.

When he started at Boys Town, Dr. Sevier learned that Nebraska was one of a minority of states where audiologists were required to have two professional licenses; one for the practice of audiology itself, and yet another license to provide a hearing aid or instrument.

“Coming from states that didn’t require it prior to that, I didn’t really see a point, honestly,” said Dr. Sevier.

Requiring two licenses for one career creates a number of unnecessary problems for audiologists.

In order to maintain a license, an audiologist needs to complete continuing education, which can be received at conferences hosted by national industry associations. But by requiring a second license for dispensing hearing aids, Nebraska’s audiologists were being made to attend even more of these costly and time-consuming conferences than would be necessary to serve their patients in most other states.
 
“It’s a real financial burden, especially people who have these small private practices. You have to pay $500 to $700 to go to these conferences just to get these continuing education units,” said Dr. Sevier.

“It takes patient time away. Some of these are three, four days conferences, and people have to push their follow-up appointments back because they were gone at a conference.”

When Dr. Sevier asked colleagues why Nebraska had these requirements while most other states did not, he found the responses lacking.

“I’ve never been one for ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ If I can find a way to make things more efficient or do something to help somebody a little bit better, I’m always going to look for it,” said Dr. Sevier.

Late last year, Dr. Sevier decided to take matters into his own hands and contact his state senator, who happened to be Sen. Nicole Fox, now the Director of Government Relations at the Platte Institute.

With former Sen. Fox’s help, hearing instrument licensing reform for audiologists became one of several occupational licensing improvements put forward in the 2017 legislative session.

Ultimately, the language to end the requirement for audiologists to acquire two licenses was included in Sen. Carol Blood’s Legislative Bill 88, and was unanimously approved by the Nebraska Legislature. By being passed as an emergency provision and earning the highest possible level of support from lawmakers, Dr. Sevier’s idea became law immediately upon being signed by the governor.

“The day I found out that it passed, I did cartwheels down the hallway,” said Dr. Sevier.  

Thanks to the hard work and innovative thinking of Dr. Sevier, Nebraska’s audiologists will no longer need to gain a duplicative professional license when they update their paperwork at the close of this year.

“It’s going to help tons of people [at Boys Town]. The staff as a whole are going to see a huge benefit. It’s one less hurdle to give the patients what they need.”

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