Legislation to expand insurance coverage for children’s hearing aids was recently approved in the California State Assembly.
Assembly Bill 598, introduced by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would require health insurance plans to provide coverage for hearing aids and hearing-aid services for children under 18 years of age.
“Access to hearing aids at the earliest possible time dramatically improves speech and language outcomes for children with hearing loss,” Bloom said. “But in spite of near unanimous support from the public and the legislature, the powerful insurance industry continues to be vehemently in opposition and intend to strangle this legislation using the same tactics they have used to defeat this bill in the past.”
All newborns in California receive a hearing status screening through the California Newborn Hearing Screening Program. Yet upon finding out their child’s hearing status, parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children often find out that interventions and related services are not covered by their health insurance. Only one in 10 children in privately funded plans has coverage for hearing aids and hearing aid services, leaving over 8,000 children without any kind of health insurance coverage for their devices.
Thousands of families are forced to pay the full cost of hearing aids, which cost on average between $3,000 and $8,000 per pair. Hearing aids are replaced frequently on growing children (a new replacement every three to five years), causing the cost of these devices to spiral over even a few years. According to the California Health Benefits Review Program, an estimated 195 children in need of hearing aids do not have them simply because their families cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs. For many other families, lack of insurance coverage may mean they have to postpone their child’s hearing aid maintenance, fittings, adjustments or audiologist visits.
Deaf or hard-of-hearing children often benefit the most from multi-sensory approaches to learning that incorporate both visual and spoken language; without access to hearing aids, these children are deprived of an important tool for language development. Additionally, classrooms can often be equipped with assistive learning device systems, such as FM systems, but if a child does not have a hearing aid, they cannot benefit from these systems.
“It’s encouraging to see the overwhelming support for AB 598, from individuals, advocates and legislators,” Bloom said. “Investing in children and early childhood education is one of California’s top priorities, and AB 598 is fully aligned with those priorities.”
AB 598 has been sent to the governor for consideration.
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