Senate weighs insurance coverage for hearing aids

February 9, 2010 7:23:52 AM PST
Legislators are back in Springfield as a bill is pending that would give people who are deaf and hard of hearing the right to choose their hearing devices with proper insurance coverage.It's not that insurance companies do not cover hearing devices. It's just that there is a lack of choices.

"Insurance companies consider hearing aids to be cosmetic, and they are not covered. Whereas, there is another device called cochlear implants, and they are covered," said Julieann Chavez, project coordinator at River Forest Progress Center for Independent Living.

Chavez also is an consumer advocate for getting the hearing aid legislation passed.

"There's nothing against cochlear implants. It's just the fact that there are people who would like to stay with their hearing aids, but just simply cannot afford it. And if they qualify for cochlear implant, they are encouraged to go that route," she said.

Ron Busse needs two new hearing aids. His insurance company told him they will only cover cochlear implant.

"I'm afraid to get the surgery, in case it doesn't work in my case. So, that kind of scares me. I've been debating whether to do hearing aids or the cochlear implants," Busse said.

Megan Mathisen works as a waitress. She is on Medicare and Medicaid, and she needs a new hearing aid but can't afford the $2,500 cost.

"When my audiologist suggested I get a cochlear implant, the first thing in my mind was no. I don't want to go under surgery, just to have a medical device in my head, just so I can hear and have a better quality of life. I prefer to use a hearing aid," Mathisen said. "You have to have profound hearing loss in order to qualify for a cochlear implant."

Mary Mendez's mother is one of them.

"My mom had an ear infection that progressed, and eventually her hearing has started going from there," Mendez said. "Now, she definitely needs hearing aids in both ears because her hearing is just going because she's 79 years old."

The new Senate Bill 2516 will mandate insurance coverage for hearing aids with no age restrictions.

Senator Silverstein is the lead sponsor of the bill.

One of the opponents of the legislation is the Illinois Manufacturers Association. They say the "legislation will increase costs and lead to less job creation or retention in Illinois."

Audiologist Dr. Linda Remensnyder has concerns about the legislation.

"I don't think you should get a hearing aid paid for. You should get a voucher, proof of being hearing impaired, proof that you wear it, proof that you're satisfied. But then you and the doctor of audiology decide what product," she said. "All of the insurance companies are like dominoes. They just follow what Medicare says."

"It will really significantly bring an improvement of lives for many, if there is insurance coverage for hearing aids," Chavez said.

The Senate bill is pending currently.

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