April 24, 2009

Wisc. Bill Would Require Cochlear Implants For Kids

The Wisconsin State Legislature passed a bill on Thursday that could make it the first state requiring private insurance companies to cover cochlear implants for children with severe hearing problems, the Associated Press reported.

Gov. Jim Doyle has promised to sign the bill into law requiring private health insurance plans to cover cochlear implants, hearing aids and related treatment for those under the age of 18.

Some children with hearing loss receive help from hearing aids, while those with more severe problems may be candidates for cochlear implants"”devices that allow the deaf to hear by turning sound into electrical impulses that activate the hearing nerve.

However, many families with deaf children cannot afford to pay for the $50,000 or more implants when those costs are excluded by insurance policies.

Proponents say getting the devices early is critical to help children develop their language skills.

State Representative David Cullen of Milwaukee said the bill would allow children to keep their hearing and become members of society that go to school and can then keep a job.

Although some states already require insurance companies to cover some hearing aid costs, the bill would make Wisconsin the first to extend the mandate to cochlear implants, advocates said.

The Senate passed the measure on a voice vote and by an 80-16 margin in the Assembly.

It will allow insurers to apply cost-sharing provisions for the procedures.

Some Republicans and business groups who opposed the bill said the mandate would drive up costs for small businesses and employees struggling to afford health care costs.

Phil Dougherty, senior executive officer of the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans, said the potential cost of the mandate is unclear and would vary widely by company.

The bill would affect roughly 1.6 million residents with private insurance while others in self-funded plans would not be bound by the mandate.

The devices are already covered by most government-funded plans such as Medicaid.


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