House panel OKs bill mandating HMOs, insurers provide hearing aid coverage for children
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 9/22/21-Rep. Chuck Brannan III, R-Macclenny, chairs the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The Legislature moving bills to require HMOs, insurers to cover hearing aids for deaf children.

Individual health insurance policies and HMO contracts issued on or after July 2023 would be required to provide $7,000 in hearing aid coverage for children — $3,500 per ear — every two years under a bill that cleared the House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee.

Sponsored by Reps. Chuck Brannan and Ardian Zika, HB 79 heads next to the House Appropriations Committee. Its Senate counterpart (SB 498) has passed the Senate and is awaiting consideration by the House. The Senate bill was filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley.

The bills require health insurance companies and HMOs to provide benefits in any 24-month period of at least $3,500 per ear. The policy may limit coverage for ear molds to six ear molds in any 24-month period.

However, that 24-month period can reset. If a child experiences a significant and unexpected change in his or her hearing or a medical condition requiring a change in the prescription for the hearing aid — and alterations to the existing hearing aid do not or cannot meet the needs of the child — a new 24-month period must begin with full benefits and coverage.

The bill does not impact the state group health insurance program because it is crafted to apply to individual policies. The staff analysis notes there are 1,765,807 people enrolled in individual health insurance policies.

According to a staff analysis, two or three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears.

A staff analysis indicates about 461 children who are hard of hearing and covered by an individual insurance policy may qualify for the benefits the bill provides. The staff analysis estimates insurance companies and HMOs could be on the hook for nearly $2.6 million. But when the costs are spread over the 1,765,807 residents who have an individual insurance plan, it amounts to a 6-cent-per-month increase in premiums.

“Access to sound is a first-order event for a child to develop spoken language, and listening drives literacy. We all know that. The inability to listen affects every aspect of a child’s literacy,” bill sponsor Brannan said when introducing the measure.

Brannan, a Republican from Macclenny, got emotional during testimony on the bill while he shared the story of his son, Chase, who was diagnosed as hard of hearing at 6 months. He subsequently was diagnosed as profoundly deaf. Brannan said he and his wife worked for the county, which made them “fortunate.”

Ultimately, an insurance broker intervened on their behalf and Chase was able to get cochlear implants when he was 5, a surgery that cost about $120,000 at the time. His son graduated from the University of Florida and is two classes away from completing his master’s degree at UF. His son also participated in the Gubernatorial Fellows program.

Brannan’s story referenced the joy for children when they “hear their mother’s voice when those devices are turned on.”

“This child only got to hear his mother’s voice for about seven years because he lost his mother when he was 12 years old. That’s my child,” Brannan said, fighting back the tears.

“I don’t know where Chase would be. He certainly would be deaf. He may not be able to speak. But he’s not going to be a burden on the government or society,” Brannan added. “He makes his own way. “He’s never had any special accommodations except for those devices.”

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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