Nashville Sen. Douglas Henry led the opposition Thursday to bipartisan state legislation forcing health insurance companies to cover the cost of hearing aids for children who need them.
Despite Henry’s arguments that the proposal will increase insurance premiums, the Senate voted 19-13 for the bill. It passed the House 82-12 last month. Lawmakers bucked a powerful lobby, the National Federation of Independent Business, which objected to the bill as a government mandate.
“This is a really bad bill to talk bad about,” said Henry, a Democrat. “To mandate it is another tiny straw in the bundle building up on the back of the camel. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Someday it’s going to drive up the cost of health insurance, and that’s why I respectfully oppose this bill.”
Henry was the only Democrat voting against the bill.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said parents who can’t afford hearing aids for their children can go on Medicaid, which covers the cost.
“Nobody wants to look like they’re hurting little children or trying to keep little children from getting the care they need. Some people can’t afford it. For those people, we have TennCare,” Campfield said.
But Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, said, “Every once in a while, you’ve got to step in and mandate something. We’ve got to look at the benefit that this money brings and the benefit that that mandate brings. Voting for this bill is really the right thing to do. It just pricks my soul when I hear us talk about the cost when we fail to look at the benefits.”
The new coverage will pay up to $1,000 for a first hearing aid and then for new ones every three years up to age 18 if a physician certifies a child’s hearing has significantly worsened. They said the benefit will add no more than 2 cents to health insurance premiums. It goes into effect with policies at the start of 2012.