By Maximilian Kwiatkowski, State Journal-Register
Posted Jun 14, 2018 at 6:07 PM, Updated Jun 14, 2018 at 8:05 PM
Traversing party lines, a young Sangamon County boy and his younger brother took on the Illinois legislature this year and garnered massive support for a bill to help get stronger insurance coverage for children with hearing loss.
“I started trying to figure out what we could do to get it covered, and nobody would listen to me because I’m just a mom,” said Ramona Martin, the boys’ mother. “When (Hunter) turned 7, he started speaking up.”
Hunter and Owen Martin, ages 10 and 7, respectively, both wear hearing aids. They live with their parents in Illiopolis, along with Hunter’s twin sister, Hannah, and Owen’s twin brother, Noah.
Life is going well for the family. Hunter is enthusiastic about school, but the hearing aids he and his brother wear can sometimes create hurdles for the family.
The devices can cost upward of $4,000 and need to be replaced faster as the boys grow up.
Both Ramona and her husband, Andrew, work in education — she’s a social worker at Douglas School in Springfield, and he’s a history teacher at Sangamon Valley Middle School in Illiopolis — and have good insurance. But their plans do not cover most hearing aids.
Hunter’s advocacy was spurred on when he lost one of his hearing aids in school. It was his first time living without one, and he found it exhausting. It took two weeks for a replacement.
“It was rough,” said Hunter. “It’s like putting your fingers in your ears or cotton balls in your ears and then leaving it in 24/7.”
It was exhausting to strain to hear in class, so much so he would come home and nap after school, his mother said.
Last year, he started to attend Illinois House and Senate insurance committee meetings, speaking out why hearing aids should be covered.
“At my first one I was a little nervous, but other than that, I was just fine,” Hunter said.
The bill in 2017 failed, but things perked up in 2018 with House Bill 4516, which requires insurance companies to cover the replacement of hearing aids every three years for children under 18. In February and May, Hunter sat in both chambers’ insurance committees, garnering bipartisan support for the bill.
“Hunter provided really what is firsthand experience of what it’s like to be a child and not able to hear, and how important it was for him to be able to have a hearing aid,” said Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Whether it was to hear a teacher a classmate, being able socialize or just being able to be a normal kid.”
Ramona said her son didn’t need to ask her for help while legislators grilled him with questions.
“This time I went up by myself,” said Hunter. “I was like, ‘Mom, I need you to stay back, I got this.’”
Both chambers were nearly unanimous in their support for the bill, which now sits on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk for his signature or veto. The Martins are pushing for people to email Rauner to urge him to sign it.
Despite the strong support among lawmakers, a number of private insurance companies have spoke out against the bill. Hunter says he isn’t afraid of them.
“We’ll get through it somehow,” he said.
The whole process has left Hunter enamored with government.
Part of his interest came from the last day of the legislative session, when he worked as a page for Morrison.
“I just thought he was such an amazing young man. I said, ‘You should come back and be my page one day,’” said Morrison. “I got to introduce him to half the senators on the floor and encouraged him to continue in public policy and told him, ‘You know what, you should run for office someday.’”
When he grows up, Hunter said he wants to join the Army and study politics and law, eventually becoming a lawyer and a senator.
“Whenever I get done with high school, I’m going to enlist in the Army and then head to school,” he said.
In the more immediate future, he wants to support bills that go further strengthen hearing aid insurance coverage, such as extending the coverage to adults and shortening the intervals between getting a new hearing aid.
“Let’s do one thing at a time,” his mother said.
“I know but, it’s gotta get passed,” he retorted. “Well, eventually it’ll get passed.”