WASHINGTON – State lawmakers required that hearing tests begin this year for all newborns in the state. Now, they are being asked to take the next step and help families whose children are found to have hearing problems.
Delegate Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, is expected to introduce a bill in the legislative session that begins next month, to establish a hearing-aid loaner bank for families that cannot afford the devices for their children.
The devices are important because, once a newborn or child has been identified with hearing loss, treatment must begin immediately. Even a delay of a few weeks without the sense of hearing can be harmful, said Bobbi Seabolt of the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“The sooner we get that hearing aid in, the better off that child is going to be,” said Seabolt.
More than 400 infants are born each year with some level of hearing loss, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Experts said that adequate hearing during the first three years of life is important for proper speech and language development.
A hearing-aid loaner bank will allow those families a little time to defray the costs of a hearing aid, which Seabolt said can cost anywhere from $500 to $4,000. What makes it even more costly for a family is that children may need to have their hearing aids refitted as they grow and needs change.
Right now, very few insurance companies defray the costs of hearing aids for children, said Seabolt.
The purpose of the bank is to provide “timely access to amplification for newly identified infants and children zero to 3 years of age,” said Teddi Schulman of Hixson’s office.
Initial costs of the hearing aid bank could be about $600,000. The proposed bill will allow for continued funding support to the hearing bank once it has been established.
The hearing aid can be loaned out to a child for up to six months, Schulman said. When a hearing aid is returned, it may be passed on to another child for use.
Hixson sponsored a similar bill in the last General Assembly, but it failed. That measure included a proposal to loan money to families in order to purchase hearing aids, a provision that will not be in Hixson’s next bill.
“We are looking forward to success this time,” Schulman said.