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Families shoulder burden of children’s hearing aids

By Marisa Kwiatkowski, IndyStar
summarized by Rachel Cain, staff writer

For families with children with hearing loss, purchasing hearing aids is a top priority. Unfortunately, hearing aids can be very expensive and few insurance companies help alleviate the costs. The state of Indiana is currently examining the possibility of developing a state program or mandate that would require health insurers to pay for children’s hearing aids.

Michael Ripley, the vice president of health-care policy and workforce safety with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, believes such a mandate would ultimately be ineffectual since it would not affect self-insured plans. Self-insured plans account for 70% of the marketplace.

In the meantime, members of the deaf and hard of hearing community in Indiana are taking action to ensure that the children who need hearing aids have access to them.

The nonprofit group Hear Indiana recently launched a program to help families pay for hearing aids. Naomi Horton, Hear Indiana’s executive director, called the program a “Band-Aid” until the state legislature passes a health insurance mandate.

There are more than 2,500 children within the school system in Indiana who have hearing loss. Without the help from hearing aids, these children may have delayed or impaired language, reading, and social skills.

“We recognize in our state that kids are being identified [as having hearing loss] very early but still not reaching school with the language skills that they need that are so necessary for learning,” said Gayla Hutsell Guignard, the director of Indiana’s Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education. “We have a gap.”

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, at least twenty states require health insurance plans to cover the costs for children’s hearing aids. Although insurance plans targeted towards low-income families frequently pay for the hearing aids, most health insurance companies do not. Therefore, many middle class families have to pay thousands of dollars for their children’s hearing aids.

“It’s so frustrating and infuriating,” said Shireen Hafeez, the mother of a nine-year-old with moderate-to-profound hearing loss in both ears. “It’s unforgivable that so many families are needlessly struggling….It should not be a privilege to be able to afford hearing aids.”

Hafeez lives in Indiana, and, unless the state legislature passes the mandate that would make health insurance companies pay for children’s hearing aids, her family will have to continue to pay for her son’s hearing aids.

Hafeez’s insurance company says they will not help pay for the hearing aids because they say hearing loss is “not a medical condition” and the hearing aids are “more cosmetic,” Hafeez said. Hafeez’s son, Zain, had the opportunity to speak to a senate committee about the importance of hearing aids.

“Hearing aids help kids learn,” he said. “Kids that don’t get them are going to be cheated from life.”

Read the full story here.

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