Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick this week signed a new law requiring insurers in the state to cover the cost of hearing aids for children, making Masssachusetts the 20th state that ensures its young citizens get the hearing assistance they need.
The law is generous, at least for those it covers, requiring insurance companies to cover up to $2,000 for hearing aids for anyone 21 years old and younger every 36 months. That’s a big offset to the three or four thousand dollars it costs for a new set of high-quality digital hearing aids that can be fine-tuned for even the most severe forms of hearing loss.
Such coverage would seem like a no-brainer, especially for children. When kids can’t hear, they can’t learn; when they can’t learn, they can’t do well in school; when they can’t do well in school, they get lower paying jobs; when they get lower paying jobs, they pay thousands of dollars less in taxes and contribute far less back to society than they would otherwise.
That’s why I’ve always supported a hearing aid tax credit for anyone who can show they need hearing assistance: hearing loss is a huge productivity killer, and any tax reduction that goes to improving people’s hearing will be paid back in multiples by the higher taxes they end up paying on higher incomes.
You can make a similar economic argument for hearing-aid insurance coverage: given the high degrees of stress, exhaustion and other factors that lead to additional costly negative medical consequences directly related to hearing loss, it’s easy to see how a coverage of hearing aids will reduce the overall medical costs incurred by their user over time.
But there’s still plenty of opposition to mandating hearing aid coverage, espcially from business groups and insurers protesting the inflation of healthcare costs. In fact, immediately before signing the requirement that insurers cover hearing aids, Gov. Patrick signed a law setting new guidelines for healthcare providers designed to dramatically limit healthcare spending increases. Business groups such as the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and National Federation of Independent Business pointed out the contradiction between the mandate to lower healthcare costs and the requirement to provide more coverage when they formally protested the hearing-aid insurance legislation.
However, the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy estimated that, even under conservative healthcare market assumptions, enactment of the legislation would result in less than one fifth of one percent increase in health insurance premiums — between two and seven cents a month for typical plans. In my humble opinion, that’s a small price to pay for a benefit that should pay back many times over in many ways.