ANNAPOLIS A Senate Finance Committee hearing Friday was packed with supporters of a bill to require all newborns in Maryland hospitals have a hearing test before they are discharged.
During the hearing, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Thomas Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, said between 12,000 to 24,000 infants are born with mild to profound hearing loss each year. In Maryland, an estimated 420 newborns annually have a hearing deficit.
“Screening is going to make a world of difference in catching the problem early,” Bromwell said. “It’s something we should have done a long time ago.”
Delegate Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, who introduced a similar bill in the House, said the legislation is a “very important health initiative.”
“The public is not aware that hearing impairment is the most common disability in newborns,” she said during a news conference before the hearing.
Dozens of pediatricians, speech pathologists, families and representatives of hearing impairment programs echoed Hixson’s concern. Hospital associations, physicians’ associations, insurance agencies and Nancy Grasmick, Maryland superintendent of schools, also backed the bill.
Martin Wasserman, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the legislation is needed because currently Maryland hospitals only test babies who have risk factors, such as family history of hearing impairment, low birth weight or prenatal infection. This method, he said, only catches about 50 percent of infants with a hearing deficit.
Wasserman then cited research, which showed that babies who do not receive adequate intervention by six months will be delayed in speech and language skills their entire life. This delay would adversely affect cognitive and educational development, he said.
One of the speakers who caught the attention of the Finance Committee was 3-year-old Rachel Knobel, a hearing- impaired toddler who was screened as an infant as part of a special hospital program. The young girl, who had had a cochlear implant, attentively answered questions from her mother to show the committee her progress.
“With early intervention and fine technology, Rachel attends pre-school with hearing peers and has a minimal hearing gap,” said Knobel’s mother, Julie Steinberg. “We are so grateful everyday for that early screening. Every child deserves this advantage.”
If passed, Maryland would become the 11th state to enact such legislation. Provisions under the law would:
– Require hospitals to provide hearing screens
beginning July 1, 2000, for all babies before they are
discharged. The results would have to be reported to
the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
– Require the Advisory Council on Hearing Impaired
Infants to advise the department on hospital protocols
for the hearing screens. The Council also would be
required to develop a method to notify parents or
guardians of the test results.
– Require managed care organizations to cover the
According to information by the Health Care Access and Cost Commission, the screening would cost be between $15 and $50.