Canada subsidizes iPads for speech therapy

By Aditi Pai
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TalkRocketLast week, Toronto, Ontario-based MyVoice announced a discounted iPad or iPod Touch program for people who purchase the company's TalkRocket Go communication app, subsidized by the Ontario Ministry of Health's Assistive Devices Program, according to the company.

TalkRocket Go, normally $99 in the iTunes App Store, uses voice synthesis technology to provide verbal communication for people with conditions such as Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Aphasia, Parkinson's disease. The app is designed with big buttons and high-contrast text for people of all ages to use easily. A user's personalized text can be added, and other phrases can be deleted from the app to create the vocabulary that best expresses his or her personality.

In order to access the discount, families need to visit one of the 26 Assistive Devices Program clinics in Ontario to take an assessment. If after the assessment, the clinic recommends using TalkRocket Go as the right communication aid, a professional can help complete paperwork to purchase the app and device at a 75 percent discount.

In 2009, MobiHealthNews covered a similar topic in response to Roger Ebert's letter to the Editor of the New York Times in which Ebert discussed Medicare's decision to only cover dedicated text-to-speech devices, even though those are more expensive than multi-functional devices like the iPhone, which also offer text-to-speech applications.

In the post, MobiHealthNews' Brian Dolan said: "At a time when everyone is debating how best to reduce costs and improve efficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system, it’s easy to sympathize with Ebert’s frustration. Why spend thousands of dollars more per patient when another device may work just as well for some patients who need text-to-speech technology?"

Dolan also pointed out a 2001 quote in which Director of the Assistive Technology Law Center Lewis Golinker said the difficulty in making changes, like Medicare's decision to even reimburse for text-to-speech devices, had a lot to do with the small number of people who need text-to-speech devices being "invisible to Medicare".

As an example of the reimbursement process in the United States, Princeton, New Jersey-based Lingraphica makes apps and dedicated devices for the treatment of aphasia, but users can only get reimbursement from Medicare, of up to 80 percent, for the dedicated devices. Similar to TalkRocket, a speech-pathologist must evaluate the potential user's condition and prescribe the app best suited for his or her condition. According to Lingraphica, many private health insurers can also reimburse a patient for the Lingraphica products.