Advocates close to getting hearing aid bill passed.
Advocates are excited that six years of efforts to get a bill requiring health insurance companies in Georgia to cover hearing aids, could come to fruition next week.
Sara Kogon, who with Kelly Jenkins co-founded Let Georgia Hear, a Buckhead-based advocacy group devoted to accomplishing this mission, said the Georgia House of Representatives is expected to vote in March on Senate Bill 206, also known as the Hearing Aid for Children Coverage Act.
The bill was approved by the Senate 47-6 March 3rd, which was Crossover Day, the last day in this year’s legislative session when a bill could be approved by either chamber. If passed by the House, it would then require the governor’s signature to become law.
“I can’t even tell you what it feels like,” Kogon said of the possibility of the bill being approved by the House. “We have not exhaled yet. We’re not going to exhale until we’re through. But we feel like it’s surreal. It’s gone so fast this time and we’ve been trying so hard for so long. We’re just two moms. We’ve been down there every session since we started this. It’s crazy we’re this close.”
Kogon, whose son Gerald had mild to moderate hearing loss at birth and wears hearing aids in both ears, formed Let Georgia Hear with Jenkins when both of their hearing-disabled children were students at the Atlanta Speech School in Buckhead. Jenkins’ daughter Sloane is hard of hearing and wears hearing aids diagnosed at 13 months, Both children are now 7, with Sloane still at the Atlanta Speech School and Gerald Kogon, at the Epstein School in Sandy Springs.
According to a news release on the bill, 20 other states have passed similar legislation.
“I am proud to partner with Let Georgia Hear and sponsor this legislation that will directly benefit children across Georgia with hearing impairments to ensure they have the coverage needed to obtain hearing aids. I want to ensure every child in this state has every opportunity to grow and thrive. This legislation will go a long way in that goal for many children,’ District 9 State Sen. P.K. Martin IV, R-Lawrenceville, in a news release said of SB 206, which he co-sponsored with one representative and five other senators, including two local ones – District 6’s Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna, and District 56’s John Albers, R-Roswell.
Said Jenkins, “This is an important first step to ensuring all of Georgia’s deaf and hard-of-hearing children have access to hearing aids.”
Kogon said she is encouraging anyone to attend the March House session when the vote is expected to lobby members to approve the bill. Jack McConnell, the bill’s namesake, will be there. The 15-year-old got hearing aids when he was only 6 weeks old. Jack was the first newborn screened and identified as having hearing loss when Georgia started requiring hospitals to start testing babies for hearing loss at birth.
The bill has gone through several changes over the years.
“Basically we have addressed all concerns voiced by organizations that oppose insurance mandates,” Kogon said. “This is not the first iteration of the bill. We’ve put in exemption causes for small companies with less than 10 employees. Insurance companies that can show a more than 1 percent increase in premiums are excluded from this mandate. It’s really cost-effective for the state.
“For every child that’s screened in Georgia and identified in Georgia that doesn’t get hearing aids, it costs the state up to $420,000 for a child from age 0 to 18 in special education costs. Hearing aids cost $3,000 to $6,000 every three to five years. It works out to $40,000 to have a child’s hearing aids from 0 to 18.”
Kogon also said requiring hearing aids is inexpensive for the state in another way.
“The cost of the mandate is pretty cheap, less than 3 cents per month per insured Georgian,” she said. “Medicaid covers hearing aids, and the governor two years ago (wrote) hearing aid coverage for kids into the state health benefits program. He original wrote in $800,000 and it was so cheap that they increased the limit of coverage.”
Kogon also said Let Georgia Hear recently conducted a survey of 224 Georgia families who had private health insurance. Only 10 percent of the families said they had coverage for hearing aids.
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