LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A bill requiring hearing aids for babies and young children is one step closer to passage.
The bill cleared the state assembly and is now headed to the California senate.
CBS2/KCAL9’s Randy Paige spoke to one family at a hearing clinic about the impact of the vote.
He listens to a 5-year-old girl as she gushes about one of her favorite things — ice cream!
“I like vanilla and chocolate but do you know this kind of ice cream…,” says Zoe.
You’re witnessing a miracle and it’s made possible by the tiny piece of technology tucked inside the little girl’s ear — a hearing aid.
When Zoe was diagnosed with a severe hearing loss as a baby, it was a race against time to get her fitted for hearing aids. With each passing day, her brain was missing out on critical auditory clues about the world around her.
She was unable to hear the frequencies of her own mother’s voice.
“When you have an infant and you have all these aspirations for them, Rhodes scholar, or whatever, and you don’t even know if they’re going to be able to talk it’s just so painful,” says Zoe’s mom.
“The first sIx months are critical so that the brain can start making sense of what all these sounds are and what it means,” says Cathleen Mathes, president and CEO of the John Tracy Center, a nationally recognized clinic for families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Mathes was also Zoe’s therapist.
Paige asks what would have happened if Zoe hadn’t received her hearing aids early on.
“It would be very difficult for her to gain spoken language skills,” says Mathes, who acknowledges without the early intervention Zoe would be unable to speak in long, full sentences, “the way we heard her speak today,” she says.
Zoe’s mom says she had to borrow used hearing aids from the Tracy Clinic — at first — and it was a financial struggle to come up with the $8,000 she needed to buy Zoe’s aids a short time later.
” I saw my bank account go from positive to negative pretty fast,” she says.
That’s because health insurance companies in California are not required to cover the cost of hearing aids in children.
It’s estimated that only one in 10 families have private insurance that has a policy that covers hearing aids.
That could soon change. A parent-led initiative has now passed the state assembly and headed to the California senate.
If AB598 is passed into law, it would require health insurance companies to include coverage for children’s hearing aids.
“I actually think about the light coming through the window and the dust settling in the room,” says Zoe’s mom
She looks at a photo — taken on the day Zoe first heard her mother’s voice.
“From about 10 feet away, when they turned on her hearing aids I called her name and she lit up. And I knew that she was on. So I said Zoe, and she turned around and she looked at me and smiled and I just knew that we were connected and I was, I just I can’t tell you how excited I was to see her and know that we were going to be okay.”
And now nearly five years later, Zoe carries the promise of all of the other children who need the key to unlock the sounds of the outside world — but many may not be able to afford it.
Backers of the bill are optimistic about the future. They say if it sails through the senate, Govenor Newsom has shown that he cares about the needs of young children.
For more information about Let California Kids Hear, click here.
For more information about the John Tracy Center, click here.