A new Colorado law requiring insurance companies to pay for hearing aids for children goes a long way to interrupt a chain reaction that can follow untreated hearing problems, La Plata County audiologists say.
"Research on (children) indicates that untreated hearing loss can have a negative impact on language development, speech production, literacy and academic success," Chandace Jeep of Animas Audiology Associates in Durango said Thursday.
Jeep said the law, which took effect Jan. 1, reduces the financial obstacle many parents face toward ensuring their hearing-impaired children receive "the opportunity for parallel development cognitively, socially, behaviorally and emotionally to that of their normal-hearing peers."
Jeep coordinates hearing tests and follow-up services for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango and Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez. Specifically, she makes sure infants who fail a hospital hearing test given soon after birth, or who aren't screened for some reason, get attention.
"Pediatricians in the region are excellent in referring children whom they find have a hearing problem," Jeep said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as three children in 1,000 are born with a hearing loss, with about half of the cases involving genetic causes. The agency said the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Diseases estimates 28 million people in the United States have some degree of hearing loss.
Before Gov. Bill Ritter signed Senate Bill 08-057 into law June 3, 2008, very few insurance policies covered hearing aids, and those that did usually limited benefits, Jeep said. Otherwise, children who received hearing aids had parents who could afford them (around $5,000 a pair), qualified for Medicaid or received financial help from private organizations. Loaner programs provide help, but on a temporary basis, Jeep said.
In 1998, the Colorado State Grange was authorized by the national body to start a program to help families with hearing-impaired children pay for hearing aids, said Marvel resident Cindy Greer, the program director at the south La Plata County Grange. A national Grange program with the same goal ended in 2001.
"We formed a 501(c)(3), People Improving Communities and Kids, so we could apply for grants," Greer said. "Since 1998, we've helped 58 families with money we raise through grants and donations. The average they receive is $750."
Grange financial help usually goes for hearing aids, but sometimes youngsters are outfitted with a sound processor, a system that includes a voice amplifier for a teacher and a receiver for the student, Greer said.
Colorado is the 10th state to require insurance companies to pay for hearing aids, although policies may require deductibles and co-payments, Jeep said.
It can be a nightmare getting help for a child whose hearing is impaired, Heather Goodwin of Durango said in a recent interview.
Corrected hearing could solve part of the problem of her 8-year-old daughter, Vanessa, a second-grader at Park Elementary School, Goodwin said. Vanessa, who is deaf in her right ear to high-frequency sounds and is dyslexic, had repeated first grade.
"We learned through a test at school last year that she had this hearing problem," Goodwin said. "I had to talk to her so loud sometimes that my husband would say, 'Don't shout.' We thought it could be 'selective hearing.'"
Goodwin lost benefits that could have provided Vanessa hearing aids when she changed jobs.
But she hopes to regain them within a few months through Mercy Regional Medical Center, where she is a mother-infant technician. Meanwhile, she hopes to hear from the Medicaid program where she applied for hearing aids for Vanessa in September. She hasn't heard from the agency.
Vanessa is not struggling alone.
Ten students in Durango School District 9-R use hearing aids, said Jaynee Fontecchio-Spradling, a registered nurse and the district health service coordinator, in a statement.
"Sixteen other students don't have hearing aids but get preferred seating," Fontecchio-Spradling said. "The last number is more than likely higher than reported."
It's important for hearing-impaired students to receive evaluations and assistance for hearing aids, she said. Students who don't qualify for financial aid often struggle to hear in the classroom.
Lucy Horther, an audiologist with San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services, an area-wide coalition that looks out for special-needs children, said insurance coverage for hearing aids is long overdue.
"Were we glad," Horther said of the Senate bill approval. "Hearing aids are extremely expensive. A pair of hearing aids can cost $5,000."