By Nadine Dehgan
Federal funding for universal newborn hearing screening will prevail until 2022 under the The Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Act of 2017, which officially became law last month. Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) is ecstatic that there was bipartisan support for critical early testing and intervention for children with hearing loss.
Introduced in March by Representatives Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Doris Matsui (D-CA) as an amendment to the Public Health Service Act, the EHDI calls for early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of deaf and hard-of-hearing newborns, infants, and young children. Each day nationwide, 33 newborn babies—approximately three out of every 1,000 births—are diagnosed with hearing loss, making it the most common congenital birth defect. Left undetected, hearing loss can negatively impact a child’s speech and language acquisition, academic achievement, and social and emotional development.
HHF, a long-time supporter of universal hearing screening for newborns, applauds the enactment. HHF was instrumental in highlighting the need for similar legislation in the 1990s. In 1993, only 5% of newborns were tested at birth for hearing loss. By 1997, 94% were tested before leaving the hospital, and today 97% of babies are screened before they leave the hospital.
Earlier drafts of the federal budget put the coverage of these crucial procedures at risk, prompting legislators in both the Republican and Democratic Parties to take action quickly. In addition to the bill in the House, a companion measure was introduced in the Senate by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tim Kaine (D-VA). In early October, the House passed the Act following the Senate’s unanimous approval in September.
“This program exemplifies the importance of early detection and intervention,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “By ensuring that infants have access to hearing screenings at birth, parents can make informed choices about their care management early on. This is critically important, given that so much of a child’s development happens in the first few years of their life. I’m pleased that through the passage of this legislation, the newborn screening and intervention program can continue to improve health outcomes for kids.”