Bill requires insurance companies to offer hearing aid benefit for children
Last month, Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill into law that will require health insurance providers to offer coverage for hearing aids for children 21 years old and under. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Sean Garballey (D-Arlington), led efforts to successfully secure this benefit for children with hearing loss, making Massachusetts the 20th state to pass similar legislation. The bill received immediate bi-partisan support upon filing, with 71 legislators signing on as co-sponsors and many more pledging their support throughout the legislative session.
“I am extremely happy that Governor Patrick signed my bill into law,” said Garballey. “This new law will lift a large financial weight off of hundreds of families and make an everlasting difference for children with hearing loss throughout the Commonwealth.”
The legislation will help families afford hearing aids, which cost $2,500 each on average and must be replaced every three to five years. Under the new law, health insurance companies will be required to provide coverage for hearing aids up to $2,000 per aid, every 36 months. This law will help to significantly lessen the financial burden for the families of the approximately 200 children out of 80,000 live births annually in the Commonwealth who are born with some degree of hearing loss and require hearing aids.
“I commend the Patrick Administration for signing this important piece of legislation,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “Requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of hearing aids for children and teens will ease the financial burden on families while improving the quality of life for hard-of-hearing people across the Commonwealth.”
In effect, the law is a companion to the newborn hearing screening law that was passed in 1998, which mandated hearing screening for all newborns in the Commonwealth before leaving a hospital or birth center. This new law will assist families seeking to purchase hearing aids for their children upon receiving a diagnosis of hearing loss without delay due to the cost of the devices. Families pay out-of-pocket for hearing aids, sometimes delaying the time a child goes unaided to beyond the recommended 6-months of age for those children diagnosed with hearing loss at birth. If families have multiple children who require hearing aids, purchasing hearing aids every three to five years often represents a significant economic hardship.
In the past, delays in access through hearing aids led to significant educational challenges for children with hearing loss. This made it difficult for local school districts to fully service the academic, communicative and social needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing students. With early access to hearing devices, children who at one time may have attended a deaf school are now being mainstreamed as early as preschool and Kindergarten. This makes access to hearing aids crucial for a child to succeed at school among their hearing peers.
Hearing loss is one of the most common birth defects in the U.S., occurring in about 3 out of every 1,000 births. Research has shown that early identification of hearing loss and amplification with hearing aids in children prior to 6 months of age yields significantly better receptive and expressive language and vocabulary, personal-social skills and speech production. Children who do not receive early intervention cost schools an additional $420,000 and face overall lifetime costs of $1,000,000 in special education, lost wages and health complications.
The Massachusetts Hearing Aids for Children Coalition (MassHAFCC) was founded in 2009. As the core group of moms grew to 7, so did its core focus: to help pass this legislation into law.
“We are thrilled that state government has taken this important step to providing access to hearing aids for children identified with hearing loss in the Commonwealth,” says the Coalition. “This bill reaches beyond a simple insurance mandate into the realms of education, medical services associated with untreated hearing loss and the social and emotional well-being of a child with hearing loss. Passage of this bill confirms what our belief has been all along: Early Diagnosis + Early Access = A Child’s Future!”
Following cost analysis by the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, the mid-range fiscal impact for coverage of pediatric hearing aids is $0.04 per member per month; this translates to about the cost of a postage stamp per year. Impact to annual premiums is about 0.008%. Before this piece of legislation, hearing aids were only covered by the Group Insurance Commission and MassHealth. Aiding children immediately following diagnosis brings cost savings to health insurance and special education alike by the decreased need for specialized instruction such as reading, writing and math support, speech and language instruction, and itinerant services to bring deaf and hard-of-hearing children “on par” with their hearing peers.
- Information and photo submitted by State Rep. Garballey