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MU's health plan, unlike state's, doesn't cover hearing aids.

April 18, 2000
By: Danel Aguirre
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1874

JEFFERSON CITY - If you find college teachers have difficulty hearing you, you might have an easier time getting state bureaucrats to listen. Unlike the University of Missouri, state government has tried to do something for its hard-of-hearing workers.

Unlike the University of Missouri's health plan, the health plans for most of the state's other employees do cover hearing aids.

The cost difference can be substantial since the devices can cost thousands of dollars.

Stuart Loory, professor at the MU Journalism School, paid $1,950 last year for hearing aids.

"I started teaching three years ago, and I had problems for hearing what students said. Students usually don't talk loud and clear," he said.

Loory said he has had hearing problems for a long time. When a child, he had chronic ear infection. Before choosing the hearing aids, he had tried to solve the problem by surgery.

"I was told that my case could probably be improved by surgery. I got the operation couple of years ago and went worse," he said.

The lack of coverage for hearing aides with some health policies has prompted Rep. Don Kissell, D-St.Peters, to file legislation.

His bill would require that insurance companies and HMOs cover hearing aids.

"Many people in this country do not hear. We wanted to make sure that everybody has a hearing aid," he said.

Kissell himself lived with a hearing impairment for many years. He didn't realize about his problem for a long time, which was later addressed by surgery.

Coverage limits and conditions are still in force under his bill, Kissell said. His intent is to give everybody some kind of solution. The cheapest solution is better than nothing, he said.

Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, said that she was not aware of the difference in coverage for state employees, but would like see people receiving the broadest coverage possible.

"I would like people to have all their needs covered," Wilson said.

Kissell concedes his bill has almost no chance of passage this year. With just a few weeks left in the session, his bill has not cleared committee.

He said that proposals like his usually take two or three years to pass. Kissell was still happy with the response it had this year.

"Nobody testified against my bill. Insurance companies were there in the hearings, and didn't talk against my bill," he said.

Nevertheless, Brent Butler, with the Missouri Insurance Coalition, said they are opposed to the proposal.

"We don't fight against covering hearing aids, which is a valuable measure, but we think that making it a mandated benefit would raise the costs for all recipients," he said.

Butler argued that they would prefer the recipients to choose if including that coverage in their own plans.

Loory didn't get this chance, and has paid his money for it. However, he chose to invest in devices he could trust on.

"I wanted to hear well," he said.