SALT LAKE CITY—The Utah Legislature stands on the verge of making hearing aids available free to low-income children in that state who do not qualify for Medicaid or for the Utah Children’s Health Insurance Program.
On March 13, the Senate voted unanimously to establish an advisory committee in the Utah Department of Health that would be responsible for screening individuals and families for eligibility in a two-year pilot program. The program would make hearing aids available to children under age 3 who are identified by an audiologist as in need of them and whose family meets the financial need qualification criteria for eligibility.
UTAH TAKES A DIFFERENT APPROACH
About 20 states have already passed laws to ensure that kids are able to afford hearing aids. However, these bills require health insurance companies to cover hearing aids for children. That means that the financial burden is placed on the insurance companies, which is then passed along to consumers through the health insurance premiums they pay. In the Utah program, the state would pay the cost of hearing aids for eligible children. The bill appropriates $200,000 for fiscal year 2014.
CO-SPONSORED BY AN OSMOND
Not surprisingly, one of the key supporters of the measure is State Senator Aaron Osmond, a Republican from South Jordan. He is a member of Utah’s large and celebrated Osmond family, which includes Donny and Marie as well as a host of other talented singers and dancers.
The family is also known in hearing health circles for having a high incidence of genetic hearing loss. One member with hearing loss (as well as musical talent) is Justin Osmond, who is the son of Jay Osmond, lead singer of the Osmond Brothers, and the nephew of Donny and Marie. Justin, a committed advocate for people with hearing loss, is a motivational speaker, author of the book Hearing with My Heart, and a spokesperson for the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
In urging the Utah Senate to create the pilot program, Aaron Osmond said that the younger children are when they are fitted with hearing aids, the greater benefit they will receive and the better their educational outcomes. He added that if children don’t get help for hearing loss very young, they and their families will incur increased costs later.
The bill, HB 157, will be heard once more by the Senate before being returned to the House for final action.
MEANWHILE, IN GEORGIA
ATLANTA—In Georgia last week, a group of mothers of children with hearing loss lobbied their state’s legislators to pass House Bill 74, which would require health insurance companies to provide hearing aids to Georgia children.
The women, who have formed LetGeorgiaHear.org to advocate for their cause, contend that paying for hearing aids over the course of a hearing-impaired girl or boy’s childhood costs far less than the cost of special education.