By Amy Lotven
California Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D) last week succeeded in his long-term effort to get the legislature to pass a bill requiring that all issuers in the state cover hearing aids for children, but he pulled the measure before it was officially sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom due to concerns raised by the governor’s office, including whether the bill runs afoul of Affordable Care Act age discrimination requirements by focusing on children, a Bloom aide says.
The advocacy group pushing for the bill, Let California Kids Hear, was crushed by the move, but still hopes they can work with the governor to reach a permanent solution. Bloom has pushed the bill several times, and this year it passed the legislature with strong bipartisan support, despite opposition from the insurance industry.
“Our families and community were shocked to hear that AB598 was pulled back from the Governor’s desk,” says Michelle Marciniak, co-chair of Let California Kids Hear. “The bill received unanimous bi-partisan support in both the Assembly and the Senate, and Governor Newsom has made early childhood development a priority of his administration. After 20 years of the health plans and the Legislature failing California’s deaf and hard of hearing children, we had high hopes that this would be the moment to sign the bill into law. … Our journey continues. We look forward to working with Governor Newsom in the coming months on a permanent solution and we are hopeful that he will make good on his commitment to Let California Kids Hear.”
The Bloom aide says that while pulling the bill may have surprised supporters, it is the best way to ensure the legislation will eventually be signed by the governor.
Whether the legislation runs afoul of the ACA’s rules on age discrimination is important when it comes to the bill’s cost.
If it does conflict with the law, and the bill must instead cover hearing aids for all eligible enrollees, then the costs would be far more than the $2 million to $3 million estimate, the aide says. The state would be responsible for costs since the state did not include hearing aid coverage as part of its essential health benefits benchmark plan. Under the ACA, states must defray the costs of any coverage mandates not included in the essential health benefits.
Issuers had also raised the age discrimination issue during the legislative process, but committee analysts dismissed the concerns, Bloom said in a statement on the Let California Kids Hear website.
“Governor Newsom’s advisors have raised the issue again, as they are entitled to do, and are concerned that the law may be subject to legal challenge because of it. We have excellent legal advice that this is not the case and I am confident we are on solid legal ground,” Bloom said.
The aide suggests that if the issues can be worked out, the legislation could be included as part of the governor’s 2021 budget. — Amy Lotven (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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