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August 21, 2004

Hearing aid bill passes Assembly

From: Burbank Leader, CA - Aug 21, 2004

State Sen. Scott's bill would require HMOs to pay up to $1,000 for hearing aids for kids younger than 18.

By Robert Chacon
The Leader

August 21, 2004

BURBANK — A three-year battle came closer to completion for a Burbank mother of two deaf children and state Sen. Jack Scott (D-Burbank) when the state Assembly passed SB 1158, which would require California health insurance companies to provide hearing aids for deaf and hard-of-hearing children beginning Jan. 1.

Scott's bill passed the state Assembly Wednesday, requiring health insurers to pay up to $1,000 for hearing aids for children younger than . Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has 30 days to sign the bill.

The bill's passage Wednesday marks a high point in the three-year battle begun when Susan Grafman of Burbank entered Scott's office to complain that her health coverage plan did not cover hearing aids for her two children, Jake, 9 and Justin, 5.

"Medical covers the cost of hearing aids for poor people and the rich can afford it. But for the middle class they are tough to afford," Grafman said. "They told me that hearing aids weren't necessary."

Hearing aids for both her children cost about $7,600 every four years, she said.

Scott fought the battle because hearing well is essential for speech development and receiving an education, he said.

"I was frankly taken aback when this was first brought to my attention. HMOs cover other birth defects, and children born with hearing problems should also be covered," he said.

About 140,000 children statewide have hearing problems, a number that grows by about 12,000 newborns every year, he added.

It took a long time to win approval of SB 1158, partly because figuring out the costs to mandate coverage for hearing aids was difficult. It wasn't until a study done by UC Berkeley determined that the mandate would lead to an average health insurance premium increase of 12 cents a month that Scott began to make progress with the bill.

The bill was opposed by a number of health insurance groups, including Blue Cross of California, Health Net, Kaiser Permanente, California Chamber of Commerce and the California Assn. of Health Plans.

"Blue Cross as a whole does not support these types of mandates because they increase the cost of coverage," spokeswoman Lisa Mee-Stephenson said. "Every time a mandate passes, someone loses coverage because they can't afford it. Our job is to keep costs down."

Passage of the bill gave Grafman a feeling that she helped accomplish a historically significant law.

"It takes one person to step up and say that this isn't right. I feel good about being able to help out other families relieve part of their burden," she said.

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times