ANNAPOLIS – When Emily and Scott Levin’s son was born hard of hearing, the Owings Mill couple was shocked to find that a pair of hearing aids cost about $5,000.
“We were told from the beginning that every three to four years he will need new hearing aids because of the technology that he benefits from,” said Scott Levin, father of 18-month-old Ryan. “Nothing is covered by insurance.”
The Levins testified at the House Environmental Matters Committee hearing Wednesday in support of a bill to create a hearing aid loaner bank for children under 3 who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Under the bill, sponsored by Delegate Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, a loaner bank would provide free hearing aids to children under age 3 for a period of six months, regardless of household income.
“It is vital to get amplification for these kids prior to that 18 months,” said Ilene Briskin, associate director for the Hearing and Speech Agency, at the hearing. “There is a very small window for language learning.”
Hixson introduced the bill last year. She is requesting $600,000 for the first year and $325,000 for each subsequent year to fund the hearing aid bank, which would be administered by the Maryland Department of Education.
A licensed audiologist would serve as director and maintain the pool of hearing aids. Licensed audiologists could then request hearing aids for their clients from the director.
“What we anticipate with these amplification services is that they (infants and toddlers) will have as much auditory input as possible during this critical period of language development,” said Debbie Metzger, associate director of hearing and speech for the Maryland Infant and Toddlers Program. The program is a division of the Maryland State Department of Education. “Newly identified infants and toddlers with hearing loss need immediate access to amplification.”
Tennessee is the only state to have children’s hearing aid bank, Briskin said.
In Maryland, only 33 percent of children requiring hearing aids and audiology services have health insurance through the state’s medical assistance program. The other 67 percent must rely on private sources. According to the Maryland Health Care Commission, the average cost per hearing aid is $1,400.
Hixson is also sponsoring a bill to require insurance companies, nonprofit health service plans and health maintenance organizations provide coverage for hearing aids for children every three years as long as they are prescribed by a licensed audiologist.
Recent studies show children who receive hearing aids before 6 months of age are on the same level as their peers for language. If a child receives a hearing aid after that age, learning to speak becomes a slower process.
“Language learning is the basis for all academic, vocational and social skills,” said Briskin, who is also the director of audiology for the Maryland Speech Language and Hearing Association. “It is vitally important that amplification be provided as early as possible.”