A nearly two-decade-long battle may soon be victorious as a monumental bill aimed at expanding insured hearing services for children in California has reached the governor’s desk.
Dubbed the “Let California Kids Hear Act,” Assembly Bill 598 would force health insurance providers to cover the costs of hearing aids and related services for those under the age of 18.
Supporters said the bill would increase average insurance costs by six to 12 cents per months, while opponents claim it could be more.
“(Insurance providers) don't consider it a medical necessity, but you're talking about children in their formative years, learning how to speak to hear,” said parent Ed Luzzi.
Aimee and Ed Luzzi have two children with hearing impairments. The Chula Vista family could cover the costs of cochleae implants and hearing aids after their private insurance company denied payments; however, not every San Diego family can.
Without coverage, families must pay between $3,000 to $8,000 out of pocket for a single pair of hearing aids.
“Worrying about whether your child is going to be able to hear, I mean, if they don't have the money – that's worrisome,” Aimee Luzzi said.
The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom of Santa Monica.
“Access to hearing aids at the earliest possible time dramatically improves speech and language outcomes for children with hearing loss,” Bloom said.
The bill would only force coverage of hearing aids and related services for children under the age of 18. Opponents said the proposal discriminated based on age, but supporters cited a clarified ruling by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, arguing age distinction was not discrimination in this case.
“We live in, what most people would deem a progressive state, so I would hope we finally make progress on this issue,” said Ed Luzzi.
In California, all newborns are entitled to a hearing status screening thanks to the California Newborn Hearing Screening Program. However, Bloom pointed out that once a child’s hearing status is determined, many parents discover that their health insurance won’t cover hearing aid services.
“We see hard-working families who simply cannot afford hearing aids for their child, and we see the speech and language delays that happen when children who need hearing aids can't get them,” said Dr. Dylan Chan, an Associate Professor in Pediatric Otolaryngology at the University of California, San Francisco. “Every month of delay in starting hearing aids correlates with decreased long-term language potential.”
Nearly 200 children who need hearing aids do not have them due to these high costs, according to the California Health Benefits Review Program.
“I see the difference that a hearing aid makes in the lives and early development of these children. However, because only one in 10 children have hearing aids covered by their private health plan in California, I also see how devastating it is for parents who are unable to afford the treatment they know their child needs,” said Daniela Carvalho, M.D., a pediatric otolaryngologist at Rady Children’s Hospital.
The California State Senate and State Assembly both unanimously approved the bill on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. After which, the bill landed on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
Newsom can sign the bill into law, approve it without signing the bill by waiting out the deadline, or veto the bill. If the governor vetoes the bill, it will require a two-thirds vote in the State Senate and the State Assembly to override the veto and cement it as law.
Twenty-five other states have passed and 14 more are working on similar legislation to Assembly Bill 598.
NBC 7 reached out to Newsom’s office for comment but have not yet been given a response.