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August 18, 2004

Hearing-aid bill heads for Arnold's desk

From: Los Angeles Daily News, CA - Aug 18, 2004

Mom champions drive to cut costs of devices for kids

By Alex Dobuzinskis
Staff Writer

BURBANK -- Susan Grafman's effort to get health insurance companies to help pay for children's hearing aids won state Assembly approval Wednesday, more than two years after the Burbank mom walked into the office of Sen. Jack Scott and asked for help.

By a 43-20 vote, the Assembly approved SB 1158, which requires group health insurers -- both HMOs and PPOs -- to provide up to $1,000 for hearing aids for those under 18.

The bill now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature.

"It just seemed to me a matter of justice. When it was first brought to my attention by (Grafman) ... it seemed kind of strange or outrageous that these costs weren't covered," said Scott, D-Pasadena.

Susan and Tommy Grafman spent $7,600 about three years ago buying hearing aids for sons Jake and Justin, now 9 and 5, respectively. Although they were covered by a PPO, their company would not pay for the devices.

The state's Medi-Cal and Healthy Families programs cover hearing aids. Grafman said she talked to other parents with private insurance who also faced the same problem for their deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

"If you're not low-income you can't get it, (and also) if you're not rich enough. So you have to struggle," Grafman said.

Scott first introduced the bill in February 2002, after Grafman walked into his office and told him about her troubles getting hearing aids for her children.

"We know that without hearing aids, their whole outlook on life is impacted because they can't learn to speak well without hearing assistance," Scott said.

There are 81,000 children under 18 in California with hearing impairments, and it is estimated that about 65 percent of them use hearing aids. The bill would allow children covered by private plans to get new hearing aids every 36 months.

Health insurers expressed concern that the bill would drive up premiums, so the University of California studied the proposal and found that members' premiums would increase by 12 cents a month.

On May 18, the Senate approved SB 1158 by a vote of 23-14.

Grafman, who went to Sacramento to testify on behalf of the bill, said she is elated it passed the Assembly, even though it would cover up to $1,000 instead of providing total coverage for hearing aids.

"Something's better than nothing, and it's important for children to have coverage of hearing aids," she said.

Alex Dobuzinskis, (818) 546-3304

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Daily News