More than 20 people on Monday advocated for a bill in the Legislature that would require private insurance companies to cover amplification devices for children with hearing loss.
House Bill 291 is carried by Rep. Moffie Funk, a Democrat from Helena. While programs like Medicaid cover hearing aids for children, private insurance companies may not.
Nicole Thuotte, of Helena, with the group Let Montana Hear, told the House Human Services Committee only one in 10 parents have private insurance covering hearing aids
While there's mandatory hearing screening for newborns, Thuotte said it can be frustrating for parents to then have to navigate paying for what their child needs without insurance coverage.
Thuotte told the committee her insurance, which is from a state job, doesn't cover hearing loss for children. Combined with meeting deductibles and premiums, "paying for hearing aids on top of that is just too much for many," she said.
Children who don't have proper treatment can deal with delays in development and their education that can result in things like unemployment and other challenges later in life, Thuotte said.
Her youngest child, now age 6, first got hearing aids at 3 ½.
"Hearing aids give her much better, broader exposure to language than she would have without them," Thuotte said, adding her daughter can follow directions in school, play soccer and access the regular school curriculum with fewer modifications.
Caden Shrauger, a 12-year-old from Bozeman, said his hearing aids help him hear his teachers and friends.
"I enjoy playing with my friends, and hearing what they say is an important part of the fun. Without my hearing aids, my speech could change and make it harder for others to understand me," Shrauger told the committee. "Even though I would sometimes prefer not to hear what my parents are saying, I do know it is a critical part of communicating and learning from them."
For everything from someday driving a car to learning in his classes now, Shrauger said his hearing aids are critical.
"I do feel bad for kids with hearing loss who can't afford hearing aids. They must miss out on so much because of that," Shrauger said. "Mine have been an important part of my life and success in school. That's why we feel this bill is important for Montana's children like me."
Pamela Shrauger, Caden's mom, said he had an aggressive form of childhood cancer nine years ago that led to his hearing loss. Paying the cost of hearing aids after that was like adding "insult to injury," she told the committee.