When it comes to health care, it’s all about access

Thoughts from the Northeast Cochlear Implant Convention
On Saturday, I was invited to be a speaker at the Northeast Cochlear Implant Convention in Sturbridge, Mass, as a result of my service on a non-profit organization, the Gift of Hearing Foundation, dedicated to expanding access to cochlear implants, and filing legislation to do just that in the Legislature over the past three years.

As soon as I walked into the lobby of the exhibit hall, I saw  a flurry of moms and dads chasing their kids around the convention tables.  The only difference was that each kid, and some of the adults, had a noticeable wire on their heads that allowed them to hear.  What was so beautiful about that moment was that that was only distinction between these families and any others.

Before my presentation began, I had lunch in a big open convention hall with literally hundreds of families, as well as advocates, surgeons, and audiological practitioners.  It was incredible to sit down for lunch with a few of these families around the table, and hear from the mom or dad about when their son or daughter had their first cochlear implant surgery, their struggles with their health insurance companies to get the medical procedure done, and how the operation made a difference in their children’s lives. cochlear-implant-convention

Many of these operations across the Northeast were performed at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. This is a great example of the way that  our state’s support for high-quality healthcare can lead to the advance of medical innovations which make a dramatic difference in the lives of people like the children running around the CI Convention on Saturday.

On the other hand, this medical breakthrough doesn’t mean as much if access isn’t guaranteed to all children in Massachusetts.  At the presentation made by myself, Dr. Daniel Lee, a surgeon at Mass Eye andEar, and Eileen Jones, founder and director of the Gift of Hearing Founation , we saw that lack of access right before our eyes.

One mother spoke about the battles she fought trying to get her health insurance company to pay for a second cochlear implant surgical procedure.  That’s right – the health insurance company would pay for one of her son’s ears, but not both.  Another young woman, who relies upon both a cochlear implant and a hearing aid, spoke about her inability to get both procedures to be paid for by her HMO, leading her to have substantially reduced hearing.  And another mother commented that if she and her husband were not so well off, with the resources to properly advocate on behalf of their son, she knew that her son would still be deaf.

While the purpose of my presentation to the Northeast CI Convention was on describing the bill that I filed to require health insurance providers, including MassHealth, to provide CI surgery and post-operative services, I couldn’t help but come back to the real problem here, during the Question and Answer period.

It is a moral outrage that this country has a health care system that allows people like that young woman to fall through the cracks, or to require that families battle a company in order to provide for their children.  Only a comprehensive health care overhaul will ensure that families across this country will receive the healthcare they need, regardless of the unique circumstances, personal travails, and medical histories of any family on any given day.

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