House Passes Bill to Require Insurers to Cover Hearing Implants for Kids

Insurers will have to cover children’s cochlear implants in both ears and software upgrades if the bill that passed the House this week also gains Senate approval.

Stefan Roggendorf testified this week before the House Health Committee in a crisp plaid shirt. He’s 11 years old, a 6th grader at Lake Oswego Junior High School, a straight-A student and a lacrosse player.

He was also born deaf and received bilateral cochlear implants when he was less than a year old.

“My cochlear implants are my connection to the world,” Stefan said. “With my implants, I can hear everything: voices, music and TV. Without my implants, I cannot hear anything at all.”

“Stefan’s voice, when he heard his first sound -- his mother’s voice -- was indescribable,” said his father, Christian Roggendorf, an attorney. “Understandably, it was one of the highlights of my entire life.”

Christian Roggendorf said he had to fight insurers for six months before they’d agree to help pay for the pricey implants in both ears. He said their insurer wanted to do it on the cheap, paying for just one ear, and has continued to make them pay out-of-pocket to keep Stefan’s hearing aids in good working condition. “A bird can’t fly with one wing,” he said.

The Roggendorfs support House Bill 4104, which they believe would help children in less privileged circumstances to get these implants and hearing aids, as well as require the insurers to cover regular visits with pediatric audiologists and pay for software upgrades to the hearing aid devices.

“It makes me sad that people have to suffer without being able to hear just because they don’t have money or insurance coverage,” Stefan said.

On Thursday, the House unanimously affirmed its support for children with hearing loss by requiring insurers to cover bilateral cochlear implants and replacement hearing aids up to the age of 19, or 25 if the young person is a full-time student.

Rep. Sheri Malstrom, D-Beaverton, the chief Democratic sponsor, said the bill would also cover initial and ongoing interventions.

Malstrom had introduced a similar bill in 2017, but it died in the Committee on Ways & Means over budget impact concerns, particularly to the Oregon Educators Benefit Board and the Public Employees Benefit Board, but a fiscal analysis showed minimal impact this year.

Reach Chris Gray at [email protected].

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