SACRAMENTO – Legislation to ensure health insurance coverage for pediatric hearing aids passed the Senate Health Committee yesterday on a 5-0 vote. The bill, AB 2004, requires health insurance policies and health care service plans to cover hearing aids for enrollees and insured under 18 years of age. In addition to hearing aids, policies and plans would also be required to cover hearing aid services, which include hearing assessments, replacement hearing aids, fittings, maintenance, and auditory training.
“A child’s ability to hear should not be based on their family income,” said Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). “Here in California, health insurance plans are required to provide pediatric vision and dental coverage for their enrollees, yet no similar requirement exists for hearing aid coverage. It is unfathomable that child can get glasses to see but not a hearing aid to hear. This bill will correct that inequity and ensure that California families can get the hearing aids their children need without facing prohibitive costs.”
California’s Newborn Hearing Screening Program was created in 1998 with the goal of identifying hearing loss in infants and linking families with appropriate intervention and support services. However, after a child’s hearing loss has been identified, families are left without support or assistance to pay for their child’s medically-necessary, but costly, hearing aids.
According to an analysis by the California Health Benefit Review Program, only 9% of children on private insurance plans and policies have their hearing aids covered. As a result, hundreds of families forego hearing aids for their children and thousands more have to pay the full cost of the hearing aids and accompanying services out of their own pockets. The cost of hearing aids has been identified as the most significant barrier to parents obtaining pediatric hearing aid. Hearing aids and hearing aid services cost an average of $3,500, a steep financial burden for working families that already paying into their health insurance plans. AB 2004 will nearly double hearing aid coverage throughout California, increasing the number of children who have insurance coverage for their hearing aids from 5,862 to 11,018. Additionally, approximately 200 children will receive hearing aids for the first time.
Early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids has a proven and significant impact on a child’s speech and language development. Studies have also identified a correlation between language development and education outcomes such as college readiness and graduation rates. In classrooms, school districts will often provide assistive listening devices that allow a hearing-impaired child to better hear and understand the teacher; however, to access those devices and systems, children must have a hearing aid.
AB 2004 is a bi-partisan bill and has support from advocacy organizations including the California Association of the Deaf, CA Coalition of Agencies Serving Deaf & Hard of Hearing Persons, California Teachers Association, and Disability Rights California.
“Despite being a leader on issues of equity and justice, California lags behind twenty other states in requiring health insurance to cover pediatric hearing aids,” said Assemblymember Bloom. “This bill is not just about healthcare; it’s about education equity. AB 2004 will ensure that all California children, regardless of income or background, have health insurance coverage for hearing aids.”
Richard Bloom chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation. He represents California’s 50th Assembly District, which comprises the communities of Agoura Hills, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Hollywood, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Topanga, West Hollywood, and West Los Angeles.
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