January 16, 2009  

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Clifton girl witnesses signing - Attends governor's signing of G

(by Mollie Gray, Staff Writer - January 09, 2009)

Kaitlyn Weatherby, 10, left, of Sewell, her twin, Tyler Weatherby and Caitlyn D'Alessio, 10, right, of Clifton, look on as acting Gov. Richard Codey signs a bill known as Grace's Law, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, in Trenton. The law named after Grace Gleba, 9, of Washington Township in Warren County, who has used hearing aids since age 3, will require all state-regulated health insurers to cover costs of medically- necessary hearing aids for children up to 15 years old. Behind Codey are the bill's sponsors, Sen. Shirley Turner, left, (D-Mercer), Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, (D-Somerset), and Assemblyman, and practicing physician, Herb Conaway, right, (D-Burlington). Codey was filling in while Gov. Jon Corzine was out of the state for the holidays.

CLIFTON –Claudio and Pamela D’Alessio will no longer have to pay for their 10-year-old daughter Caitlyn’s hearing aids thanks to Grace’s Law.

State Senate President Richard Codey, while filling in for Gov. Jon Corzine during the holidays, signed Grace’s Law Dec. 30, making insurance companies in New Jersey responsible for covering the cost of hearing aids for children 15 and younger.

 Insurers will have to provide $1,000 per hearing aid every 24 months beginning in March.

 Caitlyn has cholesteatoma - an abnormal skin growth in the inner ear that has caused her to loose all the natural ability to hear in her right ear. The D’Alessios have paid about $3,500 for hearing aids for Cailtyn because their health benefits do not cover the cost of the devices. The cost of their hearing aid is coupled with the expenses for batteries and ear molds that must be replaced frequently. The batteries in Cailtyn’s hearing aid are changed once, sometimes twice a month.

 Now that Grace’s Law has been signed, the D’Alessios will join thousands of other New Jersey families who are struggling with similar, and sometimes higher medical bills.

 "We’re just happy that now the children whose parents can’t afford hearing aids can now afford them," said Pam D’Alessio.

 "This is great, so great for everybody. I hope that a lot of the parents try to take advantage of it," she added.

 Legislation involving hearing aid insurance was introduced a decade ago, said Jeanine Gleba of Warren County. Jeanine has been advocating for government support for the past nine years. Her daughter Grace, who gave the law its name in 2001, was born hearing impaired and has been using hearing aids since she was 3 months old.

 Since then, it’s been a long road for the Gleba’s. They watched as Grace’s Law stalled and failed, often having to re-introduce it as it passed through the government’s wings. There were times, Jeanine said, where she thought the bill might never be signed.

 "We’re just absolutely thrilled it’s finally a reality. There were so many times throughout that period, we felt it wouldn’t be. It’s like a weight off your shoulders. We’re so thrilled," Jeanine said. "It was our Christmas miracle."

Pam D’Alessio said her feelings were sometimes the same through the process. "We saw it go through the Assembly, go through the Senate. We thought it would never make it this year. December was our last chance," she said.

 Both families were notified last Monday that Grace’s Law would be signed the next day at the statehouse in Trenton. The Gleba’s were vacationing in Florida and were unable to attend the signing. In their place, Caitlyn held a picture of Grace and read some words on her behalf.

 "I’m also happy for Grace, even though she didn’t come, because the law passed," Caitlyn said following the signing last week.

 Both girls, who likely would have not have met if it wasn’t for Grace’s Law, are now close friends and though they live almost an hour apart, they squeeze in a sleepover every now and then.

 Jeanine said she owes much of the success of Grace’s Law to the D’Alessios, which includes Pam, Claudio and Caitlyn and her two sisters, Cristina and Jessica. The D’Alessios joined the Gleba’s and a number of other families and friends in trying to bolster support for Grace’s Law. Together, they sent out mass mailings to legislators to gain sponsorship for the measure. Caitlyn’s classmates and principal at School 14 and students and faculty at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, where her older sister Jessica attends, also wrote letters to Corzine, Sen. Barbara Buono and Assemblywoman Nellie Pou asking them to support the bill.

 In March, the City Council honored the family’s efforts and drafted a resolution affirming the Council’s support of the law. Then in May, in honor of Better Hearing and Speech month, the D’Alessios met with State legislators and other local elected officials to talk about the bill at the Summit Speech School, a school in New Providence for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.

 In October, the D’Alessios and about 60 other supporters donned shirts reading Grace’s Law at the Walk4Hearing walkathon in Mercer County and raised $7,000 for the Hearing Loss Association of America.

 Pam said the family will use the money saved from having to buy hearing aids for other items that will help Caitlyn’s hearing. The fourth grader’s school provided her with a portable FM sound system, or FM boot, to amplify her teacher’s voice during lessons. Her teacher speaks through a small microphone and the sound is carried to a piece in Caitlyn’s ear. Pam said they could use the dollars they would normally set aside for a hearing aid and purchase a similar FM system for use at home.

 In addition to individual families, Grace’s Law will also save the state money. The National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management reports that detecting and treating hearing loss at birth saves $400,000 per child in special education costs by the time that child graduates high school.

 Assemblyman Tom Giblin of Clifton, a cosponsor of the bill, praised the signing Monday. He noted the safety benefits of Grace’s Law. "When people walk down the street, they can be alerted to danger by emergency vehicle sirens or the screeching of tires. This bill will allow those with hearing impairments the same opportunity to be safe from harm by hearing the warning sounds," he said.





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