Hearing aids: Americans can now buy them over the counter


Pete Coust said it was his wife who noticed the TV was turning up louder than she wanted.

“I couldn’t hear the words in the movies as much anymore,” admitted Coust, who lives outside Washington, DC.

Watching TV isn’t Couste’s only problem. In his church choir, he can’t always hear his part and get the tone right. It has also influenced the Fire Safety Research Institute, a non-profit research organization. The 61-year-old said he no longer feels effective in judging audio quality when his team makes life-saving videos for firefighters.

“It’s affecting every part of my life,” she said.

She saw an audiologist, who said she needed hearing aids, but they would cost more than $6,000. “I thought, ‘Maybe this can wait,'” Coust said.

That was seven years ago.

The wait may be over for Couste and millions of other Americans. On Monday, for the first time in the US, adults with mild to moderate hearing loss will be able to purchase over-the-counter hearing aids. Those under 18 or with severe hearing loss will still need a prescription.

The US Food and Drug Administration announced a long-awaited rule change in August, introducing options that should be cheaper and possibly better.

Now, instead of getting a prescription and having a custom fit with a hearing health professional, adults can buy hearing aids directly from the store or online. Some doctors estimate that 90% of the hearing loss population could benefit from these prescription devices.

Experts say the move is a “game changer”.

“We’ve been working for years to make hearing health affordable and accessible,” said Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America. “We’re looking forward to Monday.”

Couste is certainly not about to give up hearing aids because they were too expensive, Kelley said. Only 16% of the tens of millions of people with hearing loss use a hearing aid, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

The number of people with hearing loss is high. About 1 in 8 people in the US over the age of 12 has hearing loss in both ears, and the rate increases significantly with age. A quarter of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss, and this reaches 50% around the age of 75.

On average, people spend at least $4,000 out-of-pocket for two ear devices, according to a 2020 study published in the medical journal JAMA. Prices can vary: major retailers can offer a pair for around $1,400, but some can cost as much as $6,000 per ear, depending on the technology.

The FDA rule allowing over-the-counter hearing aids did not change how the devices are covered. While private insurance pays for treatment after the loss of a limb or even covers the cost of Viagra, most do not cover hearing aids. Most Medicare plans won’t pay for them either. Only half of state Medicaid programs do.

So far, five companies have controlled 90% of the global hearing aid market. This type of consolidation meant that there was little price competition.

With the change, many more companies are expected to enter the market. Experts say existing manufacturers will also develop lower-cost retail devices in addition to their current offerings.

On Monday, some well-known companies in the audio world will be selling headphones.

Sony has a couple of models that pair with an app that lets users customize settings and find additional help. The CRE-C10 retails for $999.99 and has a battery life of 70 hours of continuous use. The CRE-E10 has a headphone-like design and a rechargeable battery; It is Bluetooth compatible for streaming music or audio. It will be available for $1,299.99 on Sony’s website and at Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers.

Bose also partnered with Lexie Hearing to offer the B1 model for a comparable $899. B2 for $999, adds a Rechargeable battery that works for 18 hours. Both models are Bluetooth-enabled, so users can tune them and pair them with a mobile app for support. They will be sold online, in drugstores and at stores like Best Buy.

Best Buy says nearly 300 of its stores will offer an “auditory experience,” including about 10 hearing aids and PSAP, or personal sound amplification, products. These improve sound but are not required to meet FDA standards, unlike hearing aids, which must meet FDA’s high standards for labeling, manufacturing and safety, just like other medical devices.

Best Buy encourages customers to take a hearing assessment on its website before entering the store so they can work with trained associates to help them choose a new device.

Hearing aids are not pleasant to have; they are essential for physical and mental health.

People with hearing loss who don’t have hearing aids are more likely to report poor health in general and less likely to leave the house or exercise, research has found.

There is a link between hearing loss and general frailty and an increased risk of falls, which are the second leading cause of unintentional death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Several studies have also found a link between hearing loss and poor mental and psychosocial health.

Hearing loss can lead to depression, loneliness and isolation, as well as dementia.

With hearing aids becoming easier to get, “I have a big smile on my face right now,” said Dr. Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health. He has been consulting with the government on this issue for eight years.

Lin said there has been little innovation in this space because of the way the market has been regulated.

“In 1977, because of the technology at the time, the only way hearing aids were safe and effective was to have them programmed and fitted and professionally adjusted by a licensed provider,” he said. “But the market and that technology have changed dramatically.

“Thanks to this, companies like Samsung, Apple, Google – companies that are already making innovative headphones – will be able to enter the market. They really couldn’t before.”

Kelley said if you plan to buy an OTC hearing aid, be sure to read the return policy. The FDA did not require companies to provide one, as Kelley’s group had pushed, but any return policy would have to be listed in the package.

Also check how much time you have before you can return. Hearing aids are different than glasses; It can take up to four weeks for your brain to adjust to hearing in a new way.

Try them out in different situations over a few weeks to see if they fit. Do they help in a crowded room, or do they work better? It is not one size fits all.

Couste said she will check with her insurance company to see if she will cover any of the cost of an OTC device. But finally, after all these years, he thinks he’ll hear better soon.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Coust said. “I really am.”