TRENTON – Noting that health insurers have a responsibility to provide coverage for necessary health care expenses, Acting Governor Richard J. Codey today signed legislation which will require all State-regulated health insurers to cover the cost of medically-necessary hearing aids for children 15 years old and younger.
“With today’s bill signing, we are making sure that the gift of hearing is not out-of-reach for New Jersey children living with hearing loss,” said Acting Governor Codey. “No child should be without access to medically-necessary hearing aids, which are especially critical in the formative years when kids develop the skills to speak and communicate. This new law is about guaranteeing children a level playing field to succeed, and build the skills they need to do well in life.”
The bill, S-467 / A-1571, known as “Grace’s Law,” will require all health insurers in the State of New Jersey to provide coverage for medically-necessary hearing aids for children 15 years of age and younger. The bill requires insurers to provide this coverage every 24 months, and provide up to $1,000 per hearing aid. Under the bill, a covered individual could opt for a hearing aid priced higher than the maximum payable benefit, but would have to pay the difference.
“The signing of this law will give New Jersey’s hearing impaired children a fair chance to reach their full developmental and educational potential,” said Senator Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, a prime sponsor of the bill in the State Senate.
“Principal credit for enactment of this important legislation belongs to Grace Gleba, who advocated for all hearing-impaired children in New Jersey,” said Senator Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon and Warren, and a sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “We are very proud of Grace and grateful for her sense of civic duty at such a young age.”
According to national health care statistics, two or three of every thousands babies nationwide are born with partial hearing loss, making it the number one birth defect in America. If not treated early, hearing loss can impede speech, language and cognitive development, which can result in significant educational delays and increased educational costs. Research has indicated that children with unilateral hearing loss – which is defined as hearing loss in one ear – are ten times more likely to be held back at least one grade compared to children with normal hearing. Other reports show that detecting and treating hearing loss at birth saves $400,000 per child in special education costs by the time that child graduates from high school.
“The treatment of hearing loss in children with hearing aids is not a luxury,” said Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, and prime sponsor in the General Assembly of “Grace’s Law.” “It’s unimaginable that insurers can effectively deny hearing-impaired children the opportunity to learn to hear, speak and communicate like everyone else.”
“Hearing aids are a vital first step in treating hearing loss,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), a practicing physician, and a sponsor in the Assembly. “Moreover, they can make a major difference in a child’s education and ability to understand speech in the critical early years.”
Acting Governor Codey and the bill sponsors noted that hearing aid coverage for children is especially important because children out-grow hearing aids frequently, making replacement hearing aids necessary. For families, the expense of a new hearing aid or set of hearing aids every other year may be too much to bear.
The bill is named after 9-year-old Grade Gleba, of Washington Township in Warren County. Grace, along with her mother Jeanine, has lobbied and testified in Trenton on the need for the bill. Grace, who was born with congenital hearing loss, has been using hearing aids since she was 3 months old, and as a result, has developed excellent speaking skills, good grades, and has even participated in her school choir.
“I want to personally thank Grace and the entire Gleba family for their years of advocacy on behalf of children with hearing loss,” said Acting Governor Codey. “Grace’s tenacity, and her own example of what children can achieve with the proper treatment for hearing loss, are a major reason why kids in New Jersey will be able to receive the gift of hearing for years and years to come. Grace and her family have taken personal adversity, and turned it into something positive for the people of New Jersey. We all owe her a debt of gratitude.”
The bill received final legislative approval earlier in the month. It will take effect 90 days after today’s enactment.