Thousands of children who are deaf or hard of hearing are growing up in silent worlds, unable to get hearing aids because many healthcare companies consider that an elective expense.
Currently, 25 states require insurance companies to provide coverage for hearing aids for children, but California is not one of them.
Hearing aids are expensive, costing $6,000 out of pocket on average. KTLA spoke with one couple in Los Angeles who knows firsthand the emotional and financial burden.
Thanks to the small device though, their 4-year-old son Julian can hear; he can also count and speak just as his hearing peers.
His parents feared what may have happened to his speech had he not received hearing aids when he was 6 months old.
“He has a mild to moderate hearing loss in both of his ears,” Samantha Rockman, Julian’s mother, told KTLA.
Julian is one of approximately 8,000 children in California whose hearing aids aren’t covered under their parents private health insurance.
“To find out after this incredibly lengthy journey that it’s not covered it just seems so unfair,” Rockman said.
Rockman and her husband Michael Khachadoorian run and operate their own photography business. They pay out of pocket more than $15,000 a year for medical and $6,000 every four years for new hearing aids for Julian.
But not all parents can afford the hefty cost, meaning there are many children who go without. That can be detrimental to their development, especially in younger kids.
“If those auditory experiences don’t happen in the first three years of life, we can’t go back,” said Sandra Alexander, a senior speech pathologist and auditory verbal therapist at the House Children’s Center of UCLA.
Alexander is an expert in the field and said hearing effects speech and without hearing aids it can be detrimental.
“If this sounds alarming it’s because it is, hearing loss is really a brain emergency,” she said.
Children who are hearing impaired must get diagnosed and have hearing aids by 6 months old, according to Alexander.
Those from families who earn less than $40,000 per year receive free hearing aids through California Child Services, but middle-class families receive no help.
“For those kids who weren’t able to get hearing aids until an older age it’s night and day their speech, so I just think it’s so important,” Khachadoorian said.
Parents have teamed up with medical professionals in a campaign from advocacy group Let California Kids Hear to lobby for their children and what better way to show the faces who need the help.
They hope state legislatures will see how important of an issue this is for their children to be able to hear.
“He’s about to go into kindergarten next year, and the question is, ‘Will we be able to afford them then?'” Rockman said.
Some healthcare companies are against the bill because they say it will increase costs of coverage and could affect premiums.
Proponents say they’ve been trying to pass similar legislation for the past 18 years. They hope this time around they’re successful.
The bill cleared several hurdles and will have one more major one Friday when it’s put up for a vote in the California Senate.