Hearing aids ‘cosmetic,’ not covered by insurance in Ohio. Some lawmakers want to change that

Hearing aids for children should be covered by health insurance to make early intervention for deaf and hard-of-hearing kids more affordable for Ohio families, according to a bipartisan group of state lawmakers.

Ohio law often considers hearing aids as a “cosmetic device” like plastic surgery, exempting them from health insurance benefit coverage.

“Hearing is not cosmetic. It is an essential part of learning and development for young children,” said state Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, who is co-sponsoring House Bill 198 with state Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Waynesfield.

Without intervention to help a child with hearing loss, the state spends roughly $400,000 in special education services by the time the student graduates high school, Russo said.

“The earlier we intervene, the better off for the kids and the state of Ohio,” Manchester said.

Hearing loss can affect a child’s speech, language and social development and early intervention is key to the child reaching their full potential, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Technology, such as hearing aids, can help make the most of what is called “residual hearing.”

About two to three out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are born with a detectable level of hearing loss, according to the National Institutes for Health.

The bill would require health insurance coverage for hearing aids up to $2,500 per ear every two years for individuals 21 and younger who are insured. Hearing aids cost about $5,000 for a set and need to be replaced every few years as technology improves, said Dr. Carrie Spangler, an education audiologist who has worn hearing aids since age 4.

A similar bill carried by Russo and state Rep. Casey Weinstein last legislative session failed to gain traction.

Twenty-four states require insurance plans to cover hearing aids for children, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

The Ohio Department of Health offers assistance to families with children up to age 21 to purchase hearing aids. Families at or below 400% of the federal poverty level — $104,800 a year for a family of four — are eligible for the program.

Ohio Medicaid, a state and federally funded health care program for low-income and disabled people, covers screening, diagnosis and hearing aids up to age 21.

Spangler estimates that about 400 Ohio children are born each year with hearing loss, half of whom are can receive hearing aids through the state health department or Medicaid. She also noted that since 2002, Ohio law has mandated hearing screening tests for newborns.

“To diagnose deafness and fail to provide intervention is morally and ethically unacceptable,” Spangler said.

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