Universal Infant Hearing Screening Gains Momentum in States In recent weeks, Maryland, Georgia and Kansas became the newest members of the universal newborn hearing screening club, enacting state legislation to detect and treat hearing loss in newborns and infants. And, at press time, a bill that has cleared the Arkansas House and Senate awaits only Governor Mike Huckabee’s ... ASHA News
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ASHA News  |   April 01, 1999
Universal Infant Hearing Screening Gains Momentum in States
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Hearing Disorders / Special Populations / Early Identification & Intervention / ASHA News
ASHA News   |   April 01, 1999
Universal Infant Hearing Screening Gains Momentum in States
The ASHA Leader, April 1999, Vol. 4, 1-5. doi:10.1044/leader.AN.04081999.1
The ASHA Leader, April 1999, Vol. 4, 1-5. doi:10.1044/leader.AN.04081999.1
In recent weeks, Maryland, Georgia and Kansas became the newest members of the universal newborn hearing screening club, enacting state legislation to detect and treat hearing loss in newborns and infants. And, at press time, a bill that has cleared the Arkansas House and Senate awaits only Governor Mike Huckabee’s signature to become law.
Arkansas would bring to 15 the number of states that have enacted legislation requiring the universal screening of newborns and infants for hearing loss. Twelve more states have bills or motions in the works. In these states, audiologists have banded together with pediatricians, otolaryngologists, consumers, insurers and hospital representatives to ensure that universal newborn hearing screening becomes the law of their land.
The broad-based coalition that backed legislation in Maryland is fairly typical of the populist groundswell generated by an issue that’s hard to oppose. Kelly Huebler, a Maryland speech-language pathologist and immediate past president of the Maryland Speech-Language-Hearing Association (MSHA), credits the Coalition for the Universal Screening of Hearing in Our Newborns (CUSHION) with building the support that made universal newborn hearing screening a reality in her state.
“We had all the players together to iron out the issues,” Huebler said. “A lot of good people—audiologists, pediatricians, parents, to name just a few—got together to make something happen that should have happened long ago.” Huebler praises CUSHION organizer Benjamin Dubin, whose daughter was born with a hearing loss, for “keeping politics out of the process. He kept everyone focused on the issue.”
The audiologists and speech-language pathologists of MSHA pitched in by educating their members and consumers, and writing letters and making phone calls to legislators. The turning came on Feb. 8, when consumers, state health department officials, MSHA members and other providers testified before Maryland’s Senate Finance Committee. The event was accompanied by a press conference that resulted in stories in the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, among other media outlets. The finance committee passed the hearing screening bill with a unanimous vote.
The final hurdle for Maryland, as for many states, was cost. Last year, questionable reports in the state put the outlay for a single procedure anywhere between $40 and $400, an amount that state lawmakers were reluctant to spend. More recent estimates put the cost between $25-35 per test. Gilbert Herer, an audiologist who administers a hearing screening program at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, MD—where approximately 7,500 babies are born and screened each year—testified before the Maryland Senate Finance Committee that the cost of each procedure in his pilot program was $34.
High Stakes
Advocates point out that this is a paltry sum considering what is at stake. By identifying children with hearing loss early in life and intervening, universal newborn hearing screening programs potentially save the public from much higher expenses later for special education and health care.
ASHA is helping to extend universal newborn hearing screening for infants and newborns through the states by providing resources and information for advocacy. Along with the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, the American Academy of Audiology, and the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, Inc., ASHA contributed to a model act for Universal Newborn/Infant Hearing Screening, Tracking and Intervention.
“We hope this will provide the incentive for more members to develop an interest in pediatric audiology,” said Jim Potter, ASHA’s director of government relations and public policy. By encouraging the earliest possible intervention for children with hearing loss, new state programs could generate numerous patient referrals to audiologists.
In just a few weeks, ASHA will unveil a newborn and infant hearing screening page on its Web site. The site will compile the model act, the joint statement of organizations supporting universal hearing screening, a summary of state statutes and pending legislation, frequently asked questions, and an electronic bulletin board where states can share information.
Universal newborn hearing screening programs in the states are expected to be bolstered by federal initiatives. In March, Rep. James T. Walsh (R-NY) introduced the “Newborn and Infant Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 1999,” which would provide $13 million over three years to help states design and implement model screening programs. The Clinton administration’s proposed 1999 budget earmarks $4 million in funds for a similar initiative for fiscal year 2000. ASHA is also working with Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jim Jeffords (R-VT) to introduce a companion bill to Walsh’s House version.
Federal initiatives for universal hearing screening will aid states in several ways. Most importantly, appropriations of federal funds will give states incentive and temporary support. But the federal government can also act as a coordinating mechanism by providing a clearinghouse for tracking information, ensuring more uniformity in state laws and promoting consistency in the quality of state programs by setting guidelines for clinical protocols and equipment used.
Many advocates compare the popular movement behind universal hearing screening to the one that made mammograms for breast cancer commonplace. By identifying and addressing hearing loss early, screening minimizes the public health and educational costs of hearing disorders. And like a mammogram, the procedure—performed either by auditory brainstem response or otoacoustic emissions testing—is relatively inexpensive.
The alternative, according to MSHA’s current president, Rosalie Nabors, is unacceptable. “We don’t want to have the hearing loss of another generation of kids go unidentified.”
For further information and resources, visit ASHA’s legislation and advocacy site, or call the Action Center at 800-498-2071 and ask for Eileen Crowe, ext. 4221, or Charles Diggs, ext. 4151.
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April 1999
Volume 4, Issue 8