As featured in Public News Service by Susan Potter. Listen to the audio interview here.
Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Groups fighting for children’s health are asking Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers to require insurance companies to cover hearing aids and related services for kids.
Advocates want to see language in the budget trailer bill which would mandate the coverage.
Michelle Marciniak, co-chair and co-founder of the nonprofit Let California Kids Hear and the mother of a child with hearing loss, noted hearing aids can cost about $6,000 a pair and they need to be replaced every 3 or 4 years.
“Parents are making difficult financial decisions,” Marciniak pointed out. “They’re hosting fundraisers, GoFundMe pages, they’re putting it on their credit cards. And some are forgoing them altogether. And it really doesn’t need to be this way.”
Opponents of a mandate argued it would raise costs for insurance companies, who will pass it on to consumers. In 2019, a bill to mandate hearing aid coverage for children – Assembly Bill 598 – passed both chambers in the state Legislature – but was shelved in favor of the current state-run program called Hearing Aid Coverage for Children. That program costs more than $16 million dollars a year but currently serves only 200 out of about 8-thousand eligible children. Experts say it’s a flop because so few audiologists participate in the program – and that is blamed on low reimbursement rates for providers, administrative red tape, and overburdened clinics.
In 2019, a bill to mandate hearing aid coverage for children, Assembly Bill 598, passed both chambers in the state Legislature but was shelved in favor of the current state-run program called Hearing Aid Coverage for Children. The program costs more than $16 million dollars a year but currently serves only 200 out of about 8,000 eligible children. Experts said it has been a flop because so few audiologists participate in the program, which is blamed on low reimbursement rates for providers, administrative red tape, and overburdened clinics.
Marciniak acknowledged California does a great job at screening children for hearing loss, but does a terrible job at making intervention affordable.
“Now, over 30 states have recognized that this is a developmental emergency for children, and they have acted on it by requiring health plans to cover pediatric hearing aids,” Marciniak emphasized. ” And we believe this is the best, most efficient delivery system that’s connected to a child’s medical home.”
Just one in 10 children has hearing aids covered by a private insurance plan in California. Experts estimate 1,000 deaf or hard-of-hearing kids are born in the state each year. Lawmakers and the governor have until June 15 to finalize the budget.