Members of Arizona’s Senate Health & Human Services Committee approved two Senate Bills relating to speech and hearing on January 10th. Senate Bill 1016 would make speech therapy services eligible for coverage, while SB 1017 would make cochlear implants eligible for coverage.
“Speech therapy has been an issue we’ve been looking at over the last several sessions,” Committee Chair T.J. Shope said.
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Under SB 1016, any eligible individual who’s at least 21 years old would receive speech therapy through Arizona’s Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), by removing the exclusion of speech therapy from covered health and medical services. The bill would also prohibit the use of money from the Hospital Assessment Fund from being used to provide speech therapy services.
Willa Murphy, chief legislative liaison for AHCCCS, provided a fiscal estimate for SB 1016. Depending on CMS approval, AHCCCS estimates of the annual cost include $139,500 from the general fund and $746,200 from the total fund. The estimated cost for the last nine months of state fiscal year 2024, while assuming the implementation date of October 1st, is $104,600 from the general fund, and $559,600 from the total fund.
“Speech language pathologists provide specialized speech therapy that help patients—Arizonans—speak, talk, and swallow safely after items happen to them like a stroke, which can happen to anybody at any age; after a car accident where they get traumatic brain injuries; or after they have oral cancer, which is my specialty,” said Leah Mackie, speech language pathologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.
During testimony, Mackie emphasized how more younger Arizonans are getting mouth cancers from the HPV virus, and how the therapy her office provides allows patients to return to work and school. According to Mackie, treatments needed to treat oral cancers impact the patient’s ability to speak and swallow safely. She believes all Arizonans—regardless of insurance—should have the ability to access speech therapy to eat, talk, swallow safely, return to work, and live their lives.
SB 1016 moved forward with no amendments, by a vote of 6-0.
SB 1017 would make cochlear implants eligible for coverage through AHCCCS for any eligible individual who is at least 21 years old by also removing the exclusion of cochlear implants from the AHCCCS’s Covered Health and Medical Services. SB 1017 would also prohibit the use of money from the Hospital Assessment Fund for providing cochlear implants.
“This is a service that already exists for children, and it actually was formerly covered here in Arizona prior to 2008 in the fiscal crisis,” said Shawn Stevens, neurotologist ENT surgeon at the Barrow Neurological Institute.
According to Stevens, cochlear implants are a nation-wide service provided by 36 states through Medicaid programs, while several other states are actively working on this health issue. He explained how when individuals experience hearing loss, they are more prone to remaining below the poverty line, can’t get jobs or obtain raises, are prone to early onset of dementia and major depressive disorder, and have more difficulty socializing.
“When we go to treat this, the cochlear implant is the gold standard procedure,” Stevens said. “We’ve had this technology now for about 70 years.”
With modern technology, cochlear implants can now provide 80-85% hearing function, which means individuals can go from being deaf, disabled, and less able to participate in society to fully functioning members of society, said Stevens, who also mentioned how one surgery will last an entire lifetime.
Murphy of AHCCCS stated that the estimated annual cost of access includes $124,600 from the general fund and $587,600 from the total fund. During the last nine months of the state fiscal year of 2024, assuming implementation on October 1st, the estimated impact is $93,500 from the general fund and $440,700 from the total fund.
The Committee approved SB 1017 by a vote of 6-1-0. Both bills now head to the full Senate floor for further consideration.