SACRAMENTO – Legislation requiring health insurance coverage for pediatric hearing aids passed the Assembly Health Committee late on Tuesday on a 14-0 vote. The measure, AB 1601, requires health insurance policies and health care service plans to cover hearing aids for enrollees and insured under 18 years of age.
“In California, health insurance plans are required to cover glasses for a child that needs help seeing yet that same treatment does not apply to hearing aids,” said Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). “AB 1601 will ensure that a child’s ability to obtain hearing aids is not determined by their income or background.”
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 are often stunned to find out that interventions and related services are not covered by their health insurance. Only one in ten children in privately funded plans has coverage for hearing aids and hearing aid services, leaving over eight thousand children without any kind of health insurance coverage for their devices. Thousands of families are forced to pay the full cost of hearing aids and hearing aid services, approximately $3,500, out of their own pockets. According to the California Health Benefits Review Program analysis of AB 1601, an estimated 195 children who need hearing aids simply do not have them because their families cannot afford to pay the out-of-pocket costs, and would receive hearing aids for the first time as a result of this bill. In addition to involuntarily foregoing hearing aids, the absence of coverage for these services may force children who have hearing aids to delay maintenance, fittings, adjustments, or visits to their audiologist.
Access to hearing aids is not just a health access issue, but one of education equity as well. 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.
AB 1601, which is now headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, is similar to AB 2004, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Bloom last year, which received bipartisan support before being held in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Richard Bloom 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.