Delaware Approves Hearing Aid Benefit Audiologists Hail New Law That Provides Coverage from Birth to Age 24 Policy Analysis
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Policy Analysis  |   August 01, 2008
Delaware Approves Hearing Aid Benefit
Author Notes
  • Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.
    Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.×
Article Information
Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Policy Analysis
Policy Analysis   |   August 01, 2008
Delaware Approves Hearing Aid Benefit
The ASHA Leader, August 2008, Vol. 13, 1-8. doi:10.1044/leader.PA2.13102008.1
The ASHA Leader, August 2008, Vol. 13, 1-8. doi:10.1044/leader.PA2.13102008.1
Effective Jan. 1, 2009, new hearing aid insurance legislation will benefit Delaware residents from birth to age 24. The state’s government passed the legislation June 18, making Delaware the 11th state with a hearing aid insurance law.
The legislation caps reimbursement at $1,000 every three years for each ear. “We wanted $1,500, but the bill was originally written for ages 0–18,” said audiologist Linda Heller, senior planner with Delaware’s Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities and president of the Hearing Loss Association of Delaware (HLADE). “By giving up $500, we got a wider age range,” she added.
HLADE recognizes that adults also would benefit from hearing aid insurance, but organizers decided that initial passage of a benefit for children and youth probably would be easier to obtain.
“We will be organizing to add adult coverage next year,” Heller said, adding that advocating for coverage for ear molds and cochlear implants also is on the HLADE agenda.
The signing of Delaware’s H.B. 355, Health Insurer Coverage for Hearing Aids Bill for Children, capped a three-year campaign. Consumers, parents, audiologists, and speech-language pathologists all played a role, Heller said.
Audiologist Eileen Reynolds testified in support of H.B. 355 before a Delaware House committee. A hearing-loss simulation tape helped committee members realize the impact of unaided hearing loss on successful communication, she said.
Amplification Benefits
An educational audiologist, ASHA member Reynolds knows firsthand how appropriate amplification can make a difference in the social, academic, and language functioning of children. She noted that many families are denied insurance coverage for reasons that include classifying hearing aids as luxuries, cosmetic, or experimental. Other parents are told their children do not qualify for help through the state because they are “not disabled enough.”
“I believe anger and frustration can be great motivators, so when I learned that HLADE was organizing a lobby for new legislation, I knew I had to get on board and be part of the advocacy,” Reynolds said.
Before the push for H.B. 355, HLADE had received many calls from parents unable to purchase hearing aids for their children, Heller said. She began speaking about the issue in any possible venue. She also wrote articles for the local paper and sought a legislator who would be committed to making the hearing aid benefit happen. Specifically, she looked for a legislator who wore hearing aids and found Rep. Gerald Brady (4th District, Wilmington), a military veteran.
Brady and Heller organized a public forum and invited all interested parties. One of the attendees was Matt Denn, Delaware’s insurance commissioner, and the father of a child who wears hearing aids. He signed on to research other states that had enacted hearing aid benefits.
“We wanted to know what the bill’s impact would be and what had occurred in other states,” Heller said. “If there were positive elements, we could share them. If there were negative parts, we could fix them in our bill.”
Heller launched a massive public education campaign that included e-mails asking for ideas and support. Brady crafted the bill, which was brought up before the House Committee for Banking, Finance, and Insurance. At the hearing, other legislators who have hearing loss made presentations.
“Rep. John Viola made a passionate presentation,” Heller said. “I was really struck by how candid both he and Rep. Brady were in explaining to the committee, and all the insurance company lobbyists, how hearing loss affects them, and then relating it to children,” she said, adding that the legislators also urged hearing aid coverage for adults. The bill gained momentum after the insurance committee passed it, resulting in passage by the full legislature.
At the signing, parents, consumers, advocates, and legislators were joined by Computer Assisted Realtime (CART) reporters and sign-language interpreters, enabling people who were deaf and hard of hearing to understand the proceedings. The occasion marked the first time that CART was used in the governor’s office.
Holistic Approach to Audiology
Heller praised the bill’s passage, noting that if hearing aids were provided as soon as possible after diagnosis, children would not lag academically and schools could avoid spending thousands of dollars on speech-language services and special education. Heller has a severe-to-profound hearing loss diagnosed at age 7. She did not receive a hearing aid until age 17.
“That was only one reason I was so passionate about getting this bill passed,” she said.
Heller, who is working on a PhD in international health, has been forced to leave clinical work as her hearing has gradually worsened. As a rehabilitative audiologist, she consults and teaches communication skills and shares her knowledge of assistive technology. She has served as HLADE president for 15 years.
“If you could write a script for a perfect career, I’ve had it,” she said. “I look at people from a holistic point of view. Some audiologists working for physicians don’t have time for the ‘softer side’ of audiology,” she said.
A former chief of audiology and speech with the Veterans Administration and with a school for the deaf, Heller also had her own practice.
“What keeps me in touch with the field is HLADE,” she said. “We’re all here—whether audiologist or advocate or a member of an organization—to help real people with real problems.”
Contact the Hearing Loss Association of Delaware at hlade@comcast.net or www.hlade.org. Contact Eileen Reynolds at ReynoldsEileen@smyrna.k12.de.us.
The Power of Advocacy

When ASHA member Eileen Reynolds advocated for H.B. 355, she drew on her longstanding philosophy about student empowerment.

Reynolds traced her activism to two mentors: David Saks, founder of the Organization for the Use of the Telephone, and Vic Gladstone, former head of Towson State University’s audiology department and now ASHA chief staff officer for audiology.

When she heard Saks describe the inability of his wife, who was hard of hearing, to make an emergency phone call because of a receiver’s redesign, Reynolds recalled that AT&T had resisted legislation to retrofit public receivers. Instead, the company offered a cumbersome adapter.

“I was frustrated,” she said, and on returning to class, asked Gladstone, “‘Why doesn’t someone study this and get proof?’ He said, ‘Yes, why don’t WE?’” The resulting research helped educate Congress on the issue, and a final regulation for hard-wired hearing aid telephone compatibility later was released.

In the Smyrna school district, Reynolds tries to arrange for one or more of her students to attend an outside event or advocacy opportunity that is related to hearing loss. In June 2007 one of Reynolds’ students traveled with her father to participate in an open forum with Delaware’s governor.

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August 2008
Volume 13, Issue 10