California Governor Newsom Vetoes Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Program, Advocates Disappointed
In a controversial move, California Governor Gavin Newsom has vetoed a bill aimed at improving access to hearing aids for children. This decision has left children’s advocates disappointed and frustrated, as they believe the program is desperately needed. Newsom cited concerns about the cost and setting a costly precedent as the reasons for his veto.
The proposed legislation, known as the Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Program, aimed to add benefits to the state’s Affordable Care Act insurance exchange, Covered California. However, Governor Newsom’s veto message highlighted the estimated cost of around $11 million as a key concern.
While Newsom acknowledged that improving access to children’s hearing aids remained a priority for his administration, he did not believe that doubling down on a failing program was the solution. The program has faced significant criticism, with many arguing that it is not working effectively. Michelle Marciniak, the co-founder of Let California Kids Hear, a parent advocacy group that sponsored the legislation, expressed her disappointment, stating that the program will never work.
Advocates of the bill argue that the impact of hearing loss on children’s lives is profound. Studies have shown that infants and children who cannot hear may develop permanent speech, language, and cognitive deficits, affecting their educational and social development. Early intervention, such as providing hearing aids within the first six months of life, can significantly improve outcomes. Dr. Daniela Carvalho, director of Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego’s hearing program, emphasized the lifelong impact of hearing loss, stating that children who do not receive hearing aids until the age of 3 or 4 will experience delays throughout their lives.
Despite the urgent need for adequate coverage, California’s current system falls short. While most states already include hearing aid coverage in their insurance exchanges, California only offers coverage to very low-income families through programs like Medi-Cal, leaving many children without access to crucial hearing aids. According to a California Health Benefits Review Program analysis, approximately 20,000 children and young adults fall into this coverage gap.
The Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Program was introduced in 2021 as a budget fix. However, its effectiveness has been questioned and criticized. The program’s flaws include a lengthy and confusing application process, a lack of participating providers, and limited resources for non-English speakers. These issues have made it difficult for families to access the program and obtain the necessary hearing aids for their children.
Parents like Kasey Cain from Lincoln have experienced firsthand the challenges posed by the program. Cain spent nine months fighting through red tape, only to have her documents returned as undeliverable. Frustrated with the delays, she and her husband ultimately paid $2,500 for their son’s hearing aid using a credit card. The lack of effective coverage and support has left many families feeling abandoned and overwhelmed.
Despite the setback caused by Governor Newsom’s veto, California Democrats are determined to continue their fight for hearing aid coverage. Senator Caroline Menjivar, a Democrat from Burbank, expressed her disappointment and pledged to hold the administration accountable. Menjivar highlighted the urgency of passing the bill, citing that nearly 30 states have already implemented similar programs.
The veto has left parents and advocates concerned about the future of children’s access to hearing aids in California. For parents like Wonderly, who have children with hearing loss, the struggle to provide the necessary support and care is ongoing. Wonderly’s eldest daughter, Cassie, experienced a delayed diagnosis of her hearing loss, and the national grant program eventually covered the cost of her hearing aids. However, with the need for updated hearing aids and the probability that her other two children will require them as well, Wonderly faces significant challenges, including the lack of nearby providers participating in the state’s program.
While Governor Newsom’s veto has dealt a blow to the efforts to improve access to hearing aids for children, advocates remain committed to their cause. The fight for comprehensive and effective coverage continues in California, as parents and advocates strive to ensure that every child gets the support they need to thrive.