Concord Monitor, February
"If it makes sense to require coverage in some areas, hearing aids are one of them," said Michael Skibbie, a member of a study group that recommended the legislation. "Can you really say that contraceptives or wigs after chemotherapy are medically necessary but hearing aids are not?"
Representatives from the insurance companies don't dispute that hearing aids are a necessity, but they're wary of any government mandates. And providing hearing aids to needy residents may be too big a task for the insurance industry alone, said Paula Rogers, a lobbyist representing a coalition of insurance companies.
"It is not going to solve all of the problem," she said. "There needs to be more public money put into hearing assistance. New Hampshire lags in that respect."
It's unclear how much insurance companies would have to spend if hearing aids were included under all plans. Anthem estimates premiums could increase by about 1 percent a year for each customer. But studies in other states considering similar proposals showed an added cost of about $2 per year per customer.
A few dozen people offered lawmakers their opinions on the bill at a hearing yesterday, some through a sign language translator.
Susan Wolf-Downes, the executive director of Concord-based Northeast Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, said she prefers to use interpreters to communicate with the hearing world. But her hearing aid, which has been broken for months, used to help her enjoy concerts. Replacing it would cost $1,500.
"I don't use it because I can't afford it," she signed.
Children have an especially hard time if they don't get the hearing aids they need, said Linda Taylor, a teacher of the deaf and hard-of-hearing who has used hearing aids since childhood. Without hearing, children fall behind in school and have a hard time making friends. They're more likely to have behavioral problems and drop out when they're teenagers. Although parents usually try to provide hearing aids, the maintenance and replacement costs often surpass the family budget.
"I've seen way too many kids sitting in school with one hearing aid, or one hearing aid broken or no hearing aid at all," she said. About once a week, a parent calls her, panicked by a lost or broken hearing aid. Grants are available, but it takes time to find them. "It's taken 4 to 6 months to get that funding trickling in, and 4 to 6 months of education has just gone out the window."
Ford, who lives in Wilton, wore his 3-week-old hearing aids to yesterday's meeting. "There is no reason why an insurance company can't develop some sort of a system to help those of us in need of hearing the world around us," he said.
When he finished speaking he returned to the back of the room, straining to hear how much sound $4,000 had bought him. Despite the rustling papers and hallway murmurs, Ford could make out most of the testimony.
(Meg Heckman can be reached at 224-5301, ext. 313, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
last updated: November 10, 2008
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