Insurance Companies and Hearing Aids--The Time is Now
There's a drawer in my kitchen that's full of batteries, earmolds, cases, tubes--plus a tube blower. The drawer holds the vital stuff that powers my family's ten hearing aids. Yes, that's right. There are five of us with a hearing aid perched on each ear. Well, make that four of us-- the hubby has a broken hearing aid sitting in the kitchen drawer. I also have extended family members who sport hearing aids of every kind on their ears.
Thank goodness that insurance companies provide insurance coverage for hearing aids, you may think to yourself.
But they don't.
Well, some do, thanks to generous companies that add a hearing aid rider to their insurance policies and offer them to employees. Those companies are a rare find. For a couple of years, my husband's employer offered hearing aid insurance coverage up to $1,000 per year. We switched to HMO insurance, which does not provide coverage.
People often react with surprise when they find out that hearing aids aren't routinely covered under most insurance policies. Their heads jerk back, the mouths hang open-- and they wonder-- how is it possible that something which requires a doctor's signature isn't routinely covered by insurance?
In the fall of 2008, I joined a small group of parents and deaf/hard of hearing who gathered together to introduce a bill in Illinois to mandate insurance coverage for hearing aids. We decided to go for something historical, a bill that would provide insurance coverage up to $2,500 per ear, for people of all ages. Most of the time when a bill passes in other states, it is limited to children or involves a tax credit. We were fortunate to find Senator Ira Silverstein and a co-sponsor, Senator Jacqueline Collins, who worked with us to craft SB 68.
The bill came up for a hearing yesterday and it was assigned to the insurance mandates subcommittee. A group of us gathered at the capitol building waiting for several hours for the chance to share our support for this bill. A mom from Chicago rented a car and took her kids out of school to be there. One man brought his entire family, including two of his children who wear hearing aids. Several deaf and hard of hearing adults joined in. Two directors of Centers for Independent Living showed up in support.
In the back of the room, several lobbyists from various insurance companies waited for their chance to shoot down the bill. Just a short time before, I chatted with one of the lobbyists out in the hall.
I just wanted to let you know, I'm on your side.
That lobbyist sat in the back, refraining from casting their name as another opponent.
I was grateful for that. Knowing that a lobbyist gave some whispered support was comforting. It meant that our efforts mattered-- that perhaps we had some chance to make insurance companies understand that by including hearing aids for all ages did not mean that insurance costs would soar through the roof.
We were fortunate, for Senator William Haine, the chairperson of the subcommittee spoke about his own hearing loss. Senator Collins shared her personal story of a family member with a cochlear implant. This meant that our small group had a slim, fighting chance of getting this bill off the floor.
There is much more work to be done--it is time once again to rally the troops and get every concerned citizen to pick up the phone, write a letter or email their local Senator and ask them to pass a bill that will make history. We're just a small group that needs to grow into a giant one to influence change.
I close my eyes and let the words of Margaret Mead flow through my head:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.