Lower Cost Hearing Aids to Be Available Without Prescription

hearing aids

Hearing aids to be available OTC this fall. Photo: Deposit Photos

Hearing loss, long associated with an increase in depression, anxiety, and even an increased risk of dementia, now has some assistance from lower-cost hearing aids.

New USFDA Rule Lowers Cost of OTC Hearing Aids

A new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids has been established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The rule is expected to lower the cost of hearing aids and is directed to consumers with perceived mild to moderate hearing impairment. Now they can buy hearing aids directly from stores or online retailers without needing a medical exam, prescription, or fitting adjustment by an audiologist.

In 2017, Congress passed bipartisan legislation requiring the FDA to create a category of OTC hearing aids, but it was not fully implemented until now. When the rule takes effect, consumers could see OTC hearing aids available in traditional retail and drug stores as soon as mid-October. The new rule was created partly to foster innovation and competition in the hearing aid technology marketplace.

Adults with Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss to Benefit

Close to 30 million adults in the U.S. could benefit from using hearing aids, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. 

Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (approximately 16 percent) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.

Hearing aids are not cheap. Medicare does not cover the devices, only the diagnostic tests. The average hearing aid price is $2300 but can climb upwards to $6000 for those with severe hearing loss.

The hearing devices will be sold over-the-counter at pharmacies, online, and at other retail stores.

Best Buy, for example, will include an expanded collection of hearing devices and a new online hearing assessment tool. You need to use a headset to do the test, which asks if you can hear a series of numbers at different sound levels. The tool can reveal to you if you need to see an audiologist or not.

Hearing solutions have been offered in stores like Best Buy for years, such as self-fitting hearing devices, TV amplifiers, hearing protection, and more.

The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) – the leading voice for the growing number of Americans with hearing loss – calls the step a win for millions of adults who have hearing loss and may have been waiting to get the help they need.

“We are hopeful that over-the-counter options will inspire some to take the first step to treat their hearing loss sooner. Ultimately this can mean a better quality of life, and avoiding the increased risk of dementia, falls, and isolation associated with untreated hearing loss,” HLAA Executive Director Barbara Kelley said.

“This is an exciting step, but it’s still important to remember there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to hearing loss. For many, a hearing care professional will still be a part of an effective treatment plan. But opening more options is a big step in the right direction, for a growing problem that affects 1 in 7 Americans,” Kelley said.

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