Richard Bloom

The state assemblymember representing Santa Monica is introducing a bill to require California health insurers to cover hearing aids for children.

Richard Bloom, a former Mayor of Santa Monica who represents the Westside in the California State Assembly, introduced a bill Tuesday that would make California the 25th state to mandate that private health insurance companies cover the costs of hearing aids for children. Only one in 10 deaf or hard of hearing children in privately funded plans has coverage for hearing aids, leaving more than eight thousand California children without any kind of health insurance coverage for their devices.

Hearing aids cost between $1,500 and $4,000 per ear and must be replaced every three to five years. Children from families who earn less than $40,000 per year receive free hearing aids through California Child Services, but middle-class families receive no assistance, said Dr. Michelle Christie, executive director of the Culver City-based No Limits for Deaf Children and an advocate for the bill.

In California, 195 children who need hearing aids do not have them because their families cannot afford them, according to the California Health Benefits Review Program. Even families who can afford to purchase the devices often postpone their child’s hearing aid maintenance or audiologist visits because private insurers do not cover the cost of hearing aid services.

“We believe that a child’s ability to hear should not be based on their family’s income,” Bloom said. “Yet here in California, thousands of families have to pay for their child’s hearing aids out of pocket. Some are forced to forego hearing aids altogether while others have to delay maintenance or replacements. I introduced AB 598 because I believe that needs to change.”

Michelle Marciniak, co-chair of Let California Kids Hear, a coalition that promoted AB 598, said the legislation has been introduced twice before but momentum in California and around the country for such legislation has risen in the past few years. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Children’s Hospital Association and the California Academy of Audiology all support the bill, she said.

All California children receive a hearing status screening at birth, Christie said, and if they get hearing aids before they are six months old, they grow auditory neural pathways and develop academically at the same rate as hearing children. Children who receive hearing aids by age six still reap many of those benefits.

But because very few private health insurers cover hearing aids, some children miss out on those opportunities, Christie said. Parents are often surprised to learn that they are not covered because insurers cover dental and vision care, she added.

“No Limits believe every child should have the opportunity to hear and that insurance companies should cover the cost of hearing aids,” she said. “Hearing aids impact a child’s entire life. We need to remove the financial stress for parents so they can focus on their child’s happiness and abilities, not on gathering money for their basic needs and rights.”

madeleine@smdp.com

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