Representative Becky Edwards’ (Republican – Bountiful) HB 18 – Children’s Hearing Aid Program Amendment passed the House 59-12 after an early attempt to substitute the bill by Freshman Representative Norm Thurston (Republican – Provo) nearly derailed the largely noncontroversial legislation.
The bill, which allocates $100,000 ongoing funding to assist families of deaf children under the age of six that earn income up to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), was originally established as a pilot program in 2014 and provided assistance to 32 children in Utah. Edwards bill would make the permanent program for the Department of Health and Family Health and Preparedness.
“10 per 1,000 children have significant hearing loss. Here in Utah what that means for us is we have 53,000 births per year in Utah, all of these children receive newborn screenings and many children with hearing loss are diagnosed at that time,” said Edwards. Edwards continued saying that an estimated 106 low-income children a year in Utah are born with hearing loss and that that only 26 percent are covered of these children are covered by Medicaid. “We all know the importance of language acquisition in children and exposure to language at an early age is really critical,” said Edwards. The Representative noted that this program provides preventative measures in potential learning delays, which costs the state much more per pupil if they go addressed.
Thurston asked Edwards a question regarding the income levels of the families being provided assistance and their qualifications for CHIP and Medicaid. Edwards noted that most of the children existed 200 to 300 percent below the FPL range and those that lived under 200 did not qualify for private insurance that covered the cost of hearing aids.
Thurston then moved to substitute HB 18, maintaining the program as a pilot program for another year. “The purpose of a pilot program is to understand the real nature of the problem, get underneath it, and solve it,” said Thurston. “The problem that I have is we’re talking about children whose parents for a family of four who make $45-60,000 a year and it’s not clear to me that we really understand why a family between $45-60,000 a year can’t afford on a payment plan or some other way to pay for hearing aids for their children and the government should be responsible for taking care of that,” continued Thurston.
Edwards defended her bill, stating that urgency for aids and costs makes the program necessary. “This is not an entitlement program, it’s a government service,” said Edwards, calling the services preventative. A handful of House Members rose in defense of Edwards’ bill, noting firsthand the effectiveness the current program has provided to their constituents.
The vote for Thurston’s amendment ultimately failed at 27-43. The bill now moves on to the Senate.