(SACRAMENTO — April 24, 2019) – Legislation to expand insurance coverage for children’s hearing aids passed out of the California State Assembly’s Health Committee unanimously on Tuesday, with key support from San Diego families and organizations. AB 598, introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D – Santa Monica), has widespread support among health practitioners, educators, and parents of deaf and hard of hearing children. San Diego-based Rady Children’s Hospital is among those supporters and the director of the hospital’s hearing program, Dr. Daniela Carvalho, testified in support of the bill at Tuesday’s hearing.
“California does a beautiful job in screening and identifying our children with hearing loss but fails miserably when it comes to treating,” said Dr. Carvalho during her testimony. “I see this every day when I take care of children who are hard of hearing at Rady Children’s Hospital. I see the difference that a hearing aid makes in the lives and early development of these children.”
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.
“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.”
Thousands of families are forced to pay the full cost of hearing aids, on average between $3,500 and $8,000 per pair, out of pocket. 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.
AB 598 would make California the 24th state in the nation to mandate such coverage and is 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.
Media Contact: Carlos Delgado
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.