Will Florida require insurance companies to cover hearing aids for children?

Pediatric hearing aids can range from $1000-$7000 a pair. Photo courtesy: Happy Hands Education Center

A bill related to healthcare was proposed by state Representatives Chuck Brannan, R-Suwannee, and Ardian Zika, R-Pasco, in the Florida House of Representatives.

HB 79 will require private health insurance companies to cover the costs of hearing aids for children up to age 21. A similar bill, SB 498, in the Florida Senate lowers the age requirements to only include children 18 years or younger.

A subcommittee hearing was held Feb. 16, where Brannan and Zika both shared the logistics of their bill.

“Untreated pediatric hearing loss costs taxpayers in Florida a minimum of $420,000 and that’s just on special education per child — and probably well over $1 million over his or her lifetime,” Brannan said.

Brannan said it is a burden for poor and working-class families to obtain hearing aids for their children. This bill would grant more accessibility for families who struggle with the costs of hearing aids.

Three million children in the United States have some type of hearing loss. Hearing aids can be very expensive, and many Americans cannot afford them.

Most people with hearing loss need two hearing aids, and most insurance providers do not cover the cost. The high price is often a barrier to getting the needed help and relief, but it doesn’t have to be.

The costs for pediatric hearing aids vary based on the device and level of technology. Typically, the costs range from $1,000 to $6,000 a pair. The two biggest factors affecting the cost of hearing aids are features and professional services associated with the selection, fitting, adjustments, and maintenance of the device.

Twenty-three states mandate that health insurance companies provide full or partial hearing aid coverage for children.

Terri Fisk, volunteer parent president for the Florida Coalition of Spoken Language, says there is strong research that shows the medical necessity of hearing aids, but insurance companies have yet to catch up.

“We have this problem where some families make too much money to be on Medicaid, [because Medicaid covers it],” Fisk said. “But they’re not wealthy enough to pay $7,000 out of pocket for a pair of hearing aids for their children and they kind of don’t qualify for financial aid either, so it’s really a battle.”

Children have a developmental opening or “window of opportunity” in which they absorb important skills and information quickly. Children who have hearing complications can miss important information if not able to access a hearing device. Once the window closes, it is more complicated for kids to learn certain skills which can lead to lower performance. In fact, children who don’t receive a pediatric hearing device before middle school can fall behind by 2-4 years, according to educational experts.

Romy Tuggle, special needs coordinator at Achieve Academy, says children who don’t receive a hearing aid early on can have low performance and self-esteem issues.

“A lot of kids who can’t fully participate in a lesson can become a behavior problem which signifies how much the lack of hearing can really affect a child’s education,” Tuggle said.  “But a hearing aid is not just about school, it’s about a teenager’s opportunity to get a job, it’s about building relationships, self-image — hearing is really important to how a person perceives themselves.”

Many special needs kids can stay in school until their 22nd birthday.

The bill was added to the Appropriations Committee agenda on Friday, Feb. 18.