Listen Up! Kids Get the Message in Maine

Augusta (AP) -- Maine children with hearing disabilities will benefit from legislation signed by Governor John Baldacci.

The governor signed into law a bill that requires health insurance policies to provide coverage for hearing aids for children up to age 18. The mandate will be phased in by age groups.

Policies issued or renewed as of January First, 2008, must provide hearing aid coverage for children from birth to five years of age starting next January. For children six to 13 years old, coverage must start in January 2009; and for those 14 to 18 years old coverage begins in January 2010.

Representative Anne Perry of Calais cosponsored the bill.

Perry, a Democrat, says lawmakers weighed the costs of providing coverage for hearing aids against the costs of providing other services for hearing-disabled people.

Hearing and Children

Its as simple as this: if you cant hear you cant learn to speak. Kids learn to speak through imitating the sounds they hear others make around them. And when the child says her first Bye-bye, its because shes heard others say the same thing.

Children are tested for hearing loss before they leave the hospital for home but, surprisingly, a relatively few receive a confirmed diagnosis one way or another. And so, a mom and dad might not recognize the problem for several months even longer.

Heres the thing. A childs brain isnt completely hardwired. Think about it. In five years, children learn to walk, learn a completely new language and manipulate their parents to get a puppy. Pretty good in just five years. You couldnt do it. Your brain is hardwired. You speak a language, you have opinions and so on.

The point is, the earlier a hearing problem can be detected the better for the child.

The Hearing World

Its the world most of us live in everyday. A world in which people talk and listen. Theres an assumption that individuals can both hear and speak.

In the non-speaking world, individuals use sign language, lip reading and other means to communicate. Unfortunately, that inability to speak well can limit the residents of this silent world from moving to the top of their professions.

Example? When signers refer to themselves, they always capitalize the D in deaf. They refer to themselves as Deaf. Others with hearing loss, those who use hearing devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, are referred to as deaf with a lower case d.

The point here is that there are two distinct worlds the hearing and non-hearing and, if a child is diagnosed with hearing impairment and fitted with a hearing aid shortly after birth, that infant will have a better chance to grow up hearing, speaking and living in the hearing world.

The Cost of Doing Nothing

A child who cant hear wont learn to speak. And this makes learning via traditional methods very difficult. A child who can hear with the assistance of a hearing device will learn to speak and live in the hearing world.

Conversely, if a child is not fitted with a hearing device and is unable to speak well, these children will be tracked as special needs students through all of their years of school. This will shape their self-image and slow down the learning process. Learning to speak at the age of four or five is a lot harder than it is from birth to age three. Children develop vocabularies of thousands of words before entering school. Children with a hearing loss and who grow up without a hearing device will have very limited oral vocabularies.

And after completing 12 years of school, tracked as a special needs student, that individual must now become acclimated to the hearing world as best he or she can. These individuals tend to have lower paying, less satisfying jobs. They most often utilize state services (paid for with tax dollars) and will often require on-going vocational education after high school.

Tax dollars can be used to purchase and fit children with hearing impairments when those children are just infants, or state tax payers can pay more to educate, train and maintain the good health of these people From a purely fiscal point of view, the cost of hearing aids is much less than health maintenance, which in some cases, lasts a lifetime.

The Compassion Factor

Would you support a state legislator who voted against funding for the purchase of hearing aids for kids who need them? Sounds a little cold wouldnt you say? Who is going to say no to funding such a worthwhile cause? Even the stingiest of taxpayers couldnt say no to that appropriation.

Providing hearing devices to babies as soon as a hearing loss is identified not only saves money in the long term, its just plain the right thing to do.

And other states are following Maines example. Do you know if your state provides funding for youngsters who are hearing impaired?

If not, its time to call your state representative and express your opinion. Not only is it fiscally sound for taxpayers, it will improve life quality for thousands of people in every state.

Call your representative now to find out current laws. Then, go to work to strengthen those laws.

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