Teen wants to take push for more affordable hearing aids nationwide

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ILLIOPOLIS, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Illinois law required insurance companies to cover the cost of hearing aids for people under 18 starting in 2018.

That was all thanks to Hunter Martin. 

The then 10-year-old Martin has needed hearing aids his whole life. He understood how much the out-of-pocket cost hurt families like his. He pushed a bill all the way to then-Governor Bruce Rauner’s desk.

“He’s such a good kid. Like he speaks up for everyone,” Martin’s mother, Ramona Martin, said. 

After the bill passed, Martin’s family was able to afford the higher-end hearing aids. 

“I walked by the fruit refrigerator and I heard it humming. I thought it was broken,” Martin said.

“I said, ‘That’s the fridge running,’” Ramona Martin said. “And both of us knew. I mean, it was within a week of getting them and I was like, ‘You’ve never heard that before?’ And he goes, ‘Does it always sound like that?'”

Martin’s advocacy career didn’t end there. Shortly after the bill passed, Martin learned it wouldn’t apply to businesses with self-funded insurance plans. 

“It’s like blowing up a big balloon and it popping, you’re like, ‘Oh, man,’ like all down,” Martin said. “So I sat in bed, I wrote a letter and it was all handwritten. I was like, ‘Please help my friend so and so, and I hope you get it passed,’ and said, ‘This will help everybody, not just him.’”

In the three years since Martin has sent countless letters to businesses with those particular insurance plans. The letters have inspired dozens of companies — including HSHS Health Systems — to change their policies. That hospital changed its health insurance coverage after getting Martin’s letter. 

“The plan overall has paid a little over $350,000 for hearing aid benefits,” Cassie Fryes, system director of HR operations for hospital Sisters Health System, said. “So Hunter’s had a huge success here.”

Helping others have those experiences is what it’s all about for Martin. He knew how much his hearing aids helped him, so he wants to give that to every kid.

Martin’s legislative agenda wasn’t complete with Rauner’s signature in 2018. 

He has his sights set on a bigger target than the Illinois Capitol. 

“I’m trying to work on, like, a federal bill. For, like, everybody in the whole United States,” Martin said. “I’m talking with senators and representatives trying to get something passed.”

The law only helps kids 18 and younger, but Martin realized adults could use the same help.

“If it’s from 18 and younger, it should be 18 and older,” he added.

Today Martin is 13-years-old and getting ready to go to high school. He admitted his accomplishments never seemed like much when he was ten, but now he sees the real impact with every phone call or letter he gets.

“Whenever I was standing there with Governor Rauner, he said ‘You were the youngest, most successful lobbyist in Illinois,’” Martin said. “Now, at the time I didn’t realize how important that meant to me. When I looked back and I feel so, like, accomplished that I was able to do that.”

Martin’s advocacy work attracted a big spotlight. He is one of three finalists in the country for the 2021 Oticon Focus on People Awards. To vote for Martin or to learn more about the other finalists, you can go to this website.

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