The Academy is committed to advocating for legislation that matters most to our members and the patients they serve. A key example is pending legislation that would reauthorize the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program (EHDI), the national program for the early identification and diagnosis of hearing loss and intervention services for deaf and hard-of-hearing newborns and infants.
The EHDI program is funded and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The CDC funding provides for technical assistance on data collection, management, and research to state-based screening and early intervention programs. HRSA funds the actual state programs that facilitate infant hearing screening, and ensures timely audiological diagnostic evaluations (to confirm hearing loss), and connects families with crucial early intervention services specifically designed to meet the unique language and communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing children.
EHDI has been instrumental in increasing newborn hearing screening rates from 46 percent in 2000, when Congress first authorized the program, to 98 percent in 2019. Before EHDI, the average age for identifying hearing loss was two to three years of age—past the critical period when language acquisition has already begun.
Research shows that early intervention for hearing loss is imperative for children to develop age-appropriate communication, psychosocial, educational, and language skills. Early detection of hearing loss can dramatically improve a child’s chances to succeed professionally, academically, and socially.
Without reauthorization, the EHDI program is set to expire at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2022. In late 2021, The House of Representatives passed H.R. 5561 by an overwhelming margin, which would reauthorize EHDI through FY 2026. Compared to FY 2022 authorized levels, H.R. 5561 provides increased funding to CDC but cuts funding to HRSA.
Although EHDI has succeeded in achieving near-universal newborn hearing screening, challenges remain. The scope of the program has expanded but HRSA funds have stagnated and there are gaps in ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing children are successfully enrolled in early intervention programs. In addition, there are additional objectives, including continued follow-up beyond six months of age, and comprehensive supports for families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing that remain aspirational for under-resourced EHDI programs.
The Path Forward
On April 8, a Senate companion bill was introduced by Senators Portman, Hassan, Cassidy and Hickenlooper.
To ensure the continued progression of the Senate bill and to address some of the outstanding challenges that exist in the program, the Academy has joined with other hearing health stakeholders to ensure the successful passage of this legislation and the continued success of the EHDI program.
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