Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hearing aid coverage for children is long overdue

Hearing loss is the most frequently occurring birth defect, occurring more often than all metabolic disorders screened for at birth combined.
Image courtesy papaija2008 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Approximately 3 in 1000 babies are born with a mild hearing loss or greater. 1 in 1000 babies are born deaf, and 90% of children with hearing loss are born to normal-hearing parents. Over 50% of babies born with hearing loss have no known risk factors for hearing loss.

Each year in Washington state approximately 200-250 babies are born with hearing loss.

For the vast majority of these children born with hearing loss in our state, approximately 90-95% of them could benefit from the use of hearing aids. A smaller percentage of those children who are born with severe or profound loss may require more extensive intervention, such as a cochlear implant; however, those children must first wear hearing aids for a period of time before a decision on cochlear implant surgery can be made. For a small minority, no intervention is sought and the family may choose to begin using American Sign Language (ASL) with their child; although it isn't uncommon for people born Deaf to use a hearing aid to gain some environmental awareness.

While the majority of private insurers in the country provide coverage for cochlear implantation (which alone can cost over $50,000) and associated services, a significant number of those insurance companies do not provide any form of hearing aid coverage in their health plans. Some estimates put the number as high as 70% of private insurance plans have no hearing aid benefits at all, which means that individuals and families often have to bear the entire financial burden out-of-pocket.

According to Dr. Sergei Kochkin, executive director of the Better Hearing Institute, "Medicare, state insurance programs and private insurers cover canes and crutches and often help people afford glasses, braces on their teeth, cosmetic surgery, Viagra...and other solutions to improve quality of life," says Kochkin, "but hearing loss is like a neglected orphan in this health care system.”

Unfortunately, despite many years available to begin voluntarily covering hearing aids for children, private insurers are more often dropping hearing-related benefits, rather than adding them. We hope that through our collaborative efforts that we can ensure all Washington’s hearing impaired children are guaranteed some form of hearing aid coverage through their family’s health benefit plan.

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