Bill to aid deaf and hard-of-hearing youth advances

Lawmakers on Wednesday gave the first round of approval to LB15, a bill that would require most insurance plans to pay for the hearing aids of children and teens up to age 19.

Brooke and Jeremy Fitzpatrick are the parents of Quinn, a 7-year-old with hearing aids. They said this bill would help cover the thousands of dollars they spend every few years on the hearing aid alone. The bill states health plans would also have to cover expenses like fittings and doctors visits.

"You're taking people who have gotten this scary diagnosis and they don't quite know which way is up in a lot of ways and then they get this really difficult financial news," Jeremy said.

The Fitzpatricks said they are able to afford the medical costs, and low-income families can usually get government aid. It's the middle-class families they see suffer.

"You're worried for your kid, and you're worried... are they going to have a good life are they going to be OK," Jeremy said.

Brooke said if a deaf child is born into a hearing family that can't afford hearing aids, it heavily affects the child. If children don't get hearing aids until later in life, Brooke said it can delay their social skills and emotional development.

"I have memories of Jeremy taking pots and pans and banging them near Quinn's ears to see if he would react," Brooke said, remembering how scary the diagnosis was at first to someone with full hearing.

Quinn has been wearing hearing aids since he was 4 months old. His parents said he is thriving in school and at home, and that they hope this bill will give that opportunity to other deaf and hard-of-hearing children throughout Nebraska.