Moved by a mother's story, state Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena) announced a bill Friday that would require group insurance plans to offer hearing aid coverage for children under 18.
Scott's effort is the result of his acquaintance with Susan Grafman, a Burbank mother who hadn't recovered from the shock of learning in 1997 that her 2 1/2-year-old son, Jake, was severely hearing-impaired when she got another jolt: Her insurance didn't cover hearing aids for children.
Grafman's calls to other insurance companies offered no solace, since few plans offer coverage for the devices. So out of their own pockets, she and her husband, Tommy, paid for hearing aids, ear molds, repairs and batteries, whatever it took to bring sound to Jake's silent world.
But Grafman didn't stop there, and couldn't stop, especially after tests showed that her son Justin was born with the same congenital condition as his older brother.
She learned that although the state provides hearing aid coverage for poor children through Medi-Cal, insurance plans that will cover $40,000 cochlear implant surgery routinely refuse to pay for hearing aids that cost $2,500 to $5,000.
"I thought that was an outrage," Grafman said.
In 2001, Grafman took her story to Scott, who last year introduced a similar bill that died in committee after being held for study.
Scott said insurance companies have resisted offering coverage that would benefit 140,000 children statewide, and cost an additional two to five cents per policy. "Their natural inclination is to not expand coverage," he said Friday. "Mine is to be fair."
Lisa Mee-Stephenson, a spokeswoman for Blue Cross of California, said that discounted hearing aids are available to members.
"And two to three cents doesn't sound like a lot until you start multiplying that by millions of members," she said. "Then you're talking about millions of dollars."
Karen Massett, an educational audiologist who works with Justin, now 4, and Jake, now 7, said that hearing aids are critical to the speech and language development of deaf and hearing-impaired children.
The benefits are obvious to Grafman, who recalled helping Jake identify a sound that he heard for the first time in November with the help of a digital hearing aid.
"It was an owl," Grafman said. "The value of him hearing an owl is immeasurable."