As we reflect on the one-year anniversary of the Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Program (HACCP), that launched on July 1, 2021, we call on the Newsom Administration to do better for California’s deaf and hard of hearing children.
One year in with over $16 million ($6.7M program administration and $10M for program services), only 83 children have been enrolled in HACCP and less than half (only thirty-six children) are known to have received hearing aids and services of the 7,000 eligible children. Less than 0.01 percent of the children in need were served. The numbers speak for themselves.
We are shocked that the Newsom administration is satisfied with these results, and strongly opposed the two-house agreement to make refinements to deliver on the intent of the program.
Helping thousands of families struggling to pay for their child(ren) hearing aids, was the intent of the bill that received unanimous and bi-partisan support in 2019, it was the intent of the budget allocation made in 2020, and it has not been honored. This program was supposed to be life changing for thousands of deaf and hard of hearing children in the state of California.
The Department of Health Care Services indicated that authorizing language would be necessary to include children with partial coverage and high deductibles in the program even if they meet the 600 percent of Federal Poverty Level income limit. The Legislature put forward the clarifying authority, and the Newsom Administration strongly opposed it, and every fix to make it a viable and successful program, while offering no alternative solutions.
The largest insurance plans in the state provides insufficient coverage of hearing aids for children. For example, Kaiser typically provides a $500 benefit and CALPERS provides $1,000, but that limited benefit does not begin to cover the cost of hearing aids at $6,000 or an externally worn bone conduction hearing aids at $10,000 for families already struggling to pay for their health insurance premiums and high deductible. These children are being left behind.
There is a child with atresia microtia (a condition where there is hearing loss due to the absence of an ear canal) whose family financially qualified for the program but was denied due to partial coverage for $10,000 device. The parents made the heart wrenching decision to forgo care and send their child back into the classroom without the device, arguably one of the most important school supplies, that provides the opportunity to hear the instruction in the classroom. The Administration rejected the Senate and Assembly’s fix that would have allowed this child to benefit from the program.
We talk to families every day with partial coverage who meet the income criteria for the program struggling to afford the cost of medically necessary hearing aids for their children. They are making difficult decisions and devastating tradeoffs for their families to obtain hearing aids so that their child can hear, learn, and connect with their world. Parents shouldn’t have to consider taking on lifelong medical debt to obtain hearing aids for their child. All this when there was $10 million sitting there earmarked to help their children, but instead never reached these families due to poor policy decisions made.
Families have been waiting for years for relief, and despite the significant investment made to launch HACCP, the Department of Health Care Services under Governor Newsom has not delivered on that promise to California’s deaf and hard of hearing children. Short of legislative fixes, especially by including children with partial coverage who meet the income limits in HACCP, the program will be in the same position next year and the millions of dollars allocated by the legislature will not reach the children.
While the Administration opposed any additional ongoing costs, we urge the Newsom Administration and Department of Health Care Services to immediately revisit inclusion of children with partial coverage and high deductibles using existing program funding before the end of the fiscal year, to fill the gap and meet the need of children. This will ensure the program is better positioned moving forward to serve deaf and hard of hearing children and begin to address what experts have described as a developmental emergency in the state of California.