Hearing loss affects 70,000 Vermonters. Yet, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America, Vermont is the only state in New England without a law requiring insurance coverage for hearing aids.
But, activists and lawmakers in the state want to change that. Recently, they created a petition, which asks the Vermont Legislature to pass Hearing Aid Bill H.266. It has 296 signatures already.
“There is a treatment available. There is a solution to this problem. The problem is the cost,” said hearing loss activist Deb Charlea Baker, who spearheaded the petition.
Baker serves as the Chair of the Steering Committee with the Hearing Loss Association of America, Vermont Chapter. She is a passionate member of the organization, as she also suffers from hearing loss.
“People don’t realize when people have hearing loss, it’s kind of like watching ‘Wheel of Fortune’… where you only get some of the letters. Well, we only get some of the letters and then we have to put some of the energy into figuring out what some of the missing letters are…or the missing sounds,” said Baker.
The ability to hear, she says, defines one’s quality of life.
“…If you have a family member or friend who is older than 65, one out of two have hearing loss or two out of three…it is huge. It is huge,” said Baker.
Meaning, at least 50 percent of those 65 and older in Vermont suffer from hearing loss. Its prevalence in the state coupled with its financial burden pushed Baker and her colleague Laura Siegel to create the petition.
Siegel is a Deaf Independent Program Coordinator with Vermont Center for Independent Living. She said in a statement:
“The goal of the petition was to gather signatures as well as stories from people who struggled financially to obtain hearing aids at ease. I hope it will demonstrate to the legislature of their support on this bill, H.266,” said Siegel.
The bill’s Lead Sponsor Representative Theresa Wood says she is determined to make hearing aid insurance coverage a priority in the state.
“It’s unfortunate, frankly, that Vermont doesn’t have a law that requires this coverage and…people think that it’s only affecting people with older individuals, it does not. It affects people who were born with hearing loss,” said Wood.
Rep. Bill Lippert chairs the House Healthcare Committee, he says while they haven’t had the opportunity to take up the bill, it remains a priority for many committee members.
“We have not yet had the opportunity to address this particular issue. It does affect many Vermonters. And I’m hopeful that we will be able to do this. But I can tell you right now that the objection from some stakeholders will be that it will raise premiums for everyone,” said Rep. Lippert.
Despite this, Lippert says he believes in having insurance coverage for hearing aids and hopes have the committee address it soon.