Thursday, January 22, 2009

Committee hearing on HB 1311 (hearing aid coverage)

Quick synopsis of today's committee hearing on HB 1311.(HB 1311 is a bill that would mandate insurance coverage for hearing aids in Indiana)


Rep. Goodin (author of the bill) said he was doing this because it was the right thing to do, and yes it would raise premiums, but it was still the right thing to do. He is a school superintendent and he has seen working families in his community who have been unable to afford the hearing aids needed to access school.

The committee asked him some questions, mainly about the cost to all those who paid premiums.

Some reps suggested making it "optional" coverage not mandating it for all. The sense was that this "optional" benefit would be so expensive to the folks who needed it most (the working class) - and those folks would not be able to afford the optional benefit.
The committee discussed sending this to the "Task Force on Mandates" - Rep. Fry (Committee Chair) said that would surely slow things down and was not in favor of doing that.

Testimonies in support of the bill were given by: Naomi Horton (Hear Indiana), Shireen Hafeez (parent), Teri Ouellette, and Mark Taylor (parent of 2 children with hearing loss, and married to a women with hearing loss).

Testimony against the bill was given by a woman (I think with some medical/insurance group, not exactly sure) who wanted to add some language about medical necessity to the bill (requiring a physician to "write a script" to the audiologist to indicate it was medically necessary.) Also the chamber of commerce spokesperson testified against the bill. He said that the increased premiums would really hurt small businesses.

It was brought up that this bill would only cover about 1/3 of all insured Hoosiers. According to a federal law called ERISA, many companies (2/3 or them apparently) are "self insured" and would be "protected" from mandates by this federal law. See link for more information on that. I have no idea if you can amend this bill to avoid the ERISA issue. If so, no one mentioned that today. If anyone knows more about this issue, please enlighten me. Thanks!

There was some concern that financially this bill (b/c it covers all ages and medicare recipients) would not be financially feasible.
The committee chair tabled the bill for one week. They would consider possible amendments during the week. Including more data on how many Hoosiers we are actually talking about. It is my understanding that interested parties can be present for the next discussion (in one week) but that there will not be any public testimony at that meeting. Next week the committee could vote on it, table it, or send it to the "task force on mandates" - which essentially indefinitely postpones any forward movement of the bill.

After the committee meeting, I spoke with Rep. Goodin, Rep. Murphy, Rep. Borders.
I gave Goodin a copy of model legislation that was written by ASHA. I was encouraged that Rep. Goodin has asked for additional data from me, and has requested to talk with me before the next committee meeting.

Rep. Murphy seemed like he wanted to make this work too. He seemed in support of a "kids" bill, but he also asked us to consider mandating that school districts cover aids instead of the insurance companies. I'm guessing Rep. Goodin (aka Superintendent Goodin ) would never go for that change. Not to mention that the families who need these aids the most typically have a more difficult time advocating for their rights under a revision to Article 7.

Rep. Borders has a brother and a nephew with hearing aids, and was sympathetic to the cause. Wants to work it out if we can. But definitely felt like it was a lot of money for everyone to pay in insurance premiums for only a few to benefit from (paraphrasing).

Thank you everyone for showing up today. For your interest and support. Let me know if you have questions.
I will keep you posted!


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