SACRAMENTO – Legislation to expand insurance coverage for children’s hearing aids passed unanimously out of the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday evening. The measure, introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D – Santa Monica), would make California the 24th state in the nation to mandate such coverage.
“Most insurance plans in California treat hearing aids as superfluous accessories when they are actually important medical devices that can assist a child’s language acquisition and educational advancement,” said Assemblymember Bloom. “Families shouldn’t be forced to choose between depleting their savings and providing their children with these tools.”
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 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, 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 to pay 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.
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.
California currently lags behind the more than twenty other states that currently require insurance coverage for children’s hearing aids. AB 598 was supported by a broad coalition of educators, medical professionals, hearing aid providers, and parents. Supporting organizations include the California Teachers Association, California Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Children’s Hospital Association, and California Hands & Voices.
AB 598 now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.