Expanding access to hearing aids helps people overcome much more than hearing disability

By Regence
September 15, 2020
Regence employee Jen Tschirpke

Regence employee Jen Tschirpke, pictured right with her mother, shares her personal story

As a child with hearing loss Jen Tschirpke was fortunate that she didn’t have to worry about getting new hearing aids. Tschirpke was born hard of hearing in both ears as a result of her mother’s exposure to carbon monoxide during pregnancy. Hearing aids and associated treatment weren’t typically covered by health insurance plans, and getting them for children took resourcefulness. Tschirpke’s mother had that in great measure.

“I’ve been dependent on hearing aids for my entire life,” she says. “Growing up, my family didn’t have much money, but my mom, an incredible person, made sure I got what I needed.” That included not only hearing aids, but also speech therapy and special education support in school.

“My hearing disability wasn’t discovered until I was 3 years old, so I was behind the curve on speech,” Tschirpke says. “If it wasn’t for my mother going above and beyond to get me my hearing aids and the therapy I needed, I don’t know where I’d be today.”

For many deaf and hard-of-hearing children, playing catch-up on auditory skills is one of many challenges. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing are far more likely to fall behind in their educational achievement and social development. Challenges cited by the American Academy of Audiology include lower rates of peer acceptance and higher rates of victimization, isolation and loneliness; less proficiency at making and maintaining friendships; and fewer successful interactions with peers.

Starting early
Getting early help is key to minimizing these challenges. That’s why Regence is making support more accessible by expanding coverage for hearing aids for members across its four-state footprint beginning in January, pending regulatory approval. (Oregon requires insurer support for members up to age 26, but Idaho, Utah and Washington do not).

“We are expanding our hearing aid coverage for children in every community we serve, as we had previously done in Oregon” says Dr. Drew Oliveira, Regence senior executive medical director. “Helping our young members with hearing loss will support language development, academic progress and social skills that will give them lifelong opportunities for success.”

The need is widespread, and the opportunity is real. Research from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services shows that 3 in 1,000 children are born with detectable hearing loss in one or both ears, and 15 percent of those aged 6-19 have measurable hearing loss in at least one ear. Mild hearing loss can cause a child to miss as much as 50% of classroom discussion. Investments in hearing aids have advanced school achievement and protected against depression, isolation and health deterioration.

The right time for change, especially during a pandemic
Today, Tschirpke is a senior clinical data analytics manager and helped Regence build its hearing aid benefit program. She is pleased about the coverage extension into all four states.

“I’m over the moon that Regence is offering this benefit,” says Tschirpke. “We have medical, vision and dental coverage, but until recently hearing aids have been largely left unaddressed. Getting them at a young age makes a huge difference in peoples’ lives. Given the new challenges presented by the pandemic around mask wearing for the hearing impaired, this is an especially welcomed time to expand this benefit.”

Nova Moisa, a product manager at Regence, led internal efforts at the company to expand hearing-aid coverage. “We wanted to make sure the benefit offered exceptional value to ensure members who need it will use it,” she says. “We went above and beyond Oregon’s requirement, then applied that same level of coverage in our other three states.”

Impacted members in Idaho, Utah and Washington can use the new benefit beginning Jan. 1, 2021. Coverage includes hearing aids as well as:

  • Necessary components such as ear molds and replacement ear molds to ensure a proper fit
  • Annual hearing-aid evaluations, hearing-aid checks and aided testing, replacement ear molds, and bone-conduction sound processors
  • Up to $4,000 of treatment and products every three calendar years for members under age 26 in Idaho, Oregon and Utah; and for members under age 18 in Washington, pending regulatory approval

“Having hearing aids gave me confidence that I’m capable and can add value,” says Tschirpke. “Families don’t always know what to do or where to turn when they have a deaf or hard of hearing child. I really believe this will make life a little easier for kids who already have enough hurdles to jump.”