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VOL. 35 | NO. 17 | Friday, April 29, 2011




Senate requires insurance cover hearing aids

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would require Tennessee insurance companies to include hearing aids for individuals up to 18 years of age in their policies despite opponents who say the mandate could drive up health care costs.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville was approved 19-13 on Thursday. The companion bill passed the House 82-12 last month.

Lawmakers must now agree on a grammatical change in the legislation before it heads to the governor for his consideration.

Under the proposal, the companies would be required to pay up to $1,000 per hearing aid every three years. Such assistance is currently provided under TennCare, the state's expanded Medicaid program.

"It's a very modest proposal to try to get families with hearing impaired children some assistance," Overbey said.

Most of those who voted against the measure acknowledged it would benefit children, but they feared the costs.

"This is a good one, but it's going to drive up the cost of health care," said Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville. "If you cast a vote for this mandate, you're going to have other mandates come down the pipe."

But supporters say providing this care for children is more important.

"We can't use mandate as an excuse," said Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville. "Voting for this bill is the right thing to do."

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis agreed.

"If we can't come up here to protect children, we don't need to be up here," he said.

Among those opposing the legislation is the National Federation of Independent Business, which is against any kind of health care mandate.

After the proposal passed the House last month, Jim Brown, the group's state director, said he's glad the bill's sponsors limited the size of the mandate, but said his members still weren't comfortable with it.

"About 90 percent of our members oppose any new health care mandate," Brown said. "The sponsors ... have done a good job in making sure that this wasn't the costliest of mandates, but what our members want is to go in the opposite direction."

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