Newborn Hearing Screening Program

  • Description
  • Funding History
  • Proposals
  • Expert Commentary

The Massachusetts Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Program helps ensure that every baby in the Commonwealth receives a hearing screening, early diagnosis, and access to intervention services when diagnosed with hearing loss.

Hearing loss is a common congenital disorder that affects one to six of every 1,000 newborn babies. Lifetime costs of treatment and services for people with hearing loss are lower when an early diagnosis is made. Legislation enacted in 1998 requires that all newborn infants in Massachusetts receive a hearing screening test in hospitals and other birthing facilities before discharge, and requires health insurers to cover the cost of the screening. Babies who do not pass the hearing screening are referred to audiological diagnostic centers for follow-up examinations. If an infant does not have health coverage (such as through private insurance or MassHealth) the state reimburses the cost of follow-up exams. Program staff follows up with families whose infants have failed a screening and assist them in finding appropriate services and supports, including enrollment in an Early Intervention program.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) develops screening protocols and regulations that govern hospital screenings, approves audiological follow-up centers, and it also operates a statewide surveillance and tracking system that enables the DPH to implement and evaluate the screening program. Because most screening costs are covered by insurance, funding from this line item goes chiefly for follow-up and family support services.

EHDI [early hearing detection and intervention] programs throughout the United States have demonstrated not only the feasibility of universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS), but also the benefits of early identification and intervention. There is a growing body of literature indicating that when identification and intervention occur at no later than 6 months of age for newborn infants who are deaf or hard of hearing, the infants perform as much as 20 to 40 percentile points higher on school-related measures (vocabulary, articulation, intelligibility, social adjustment, and behavior).

Year 2007 Position Statement, Joint Committee on Infant Hearing: Principles and Guidelines for Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Programs Pediatrics, Volume 120, Number 4, October 2007, p. 900