Millions of Americans have mild to moderate hearing loss and could benefit from using a hearing aid or a wearable amplification device. Unfortunately, many people avoid correcting their hearing problem due to the cost of purchasing hearing aids. Most private insurance companies and Medicare do not cover the cost of hearing aids for adults, and the average price tag is $4,000.
Many people with mild to moderate hearing loss also do not want to make multiple appointments with an audiologist that could require them to take time off work. Although alternative affordable hearing options have become available over the last several years, too few people know about them. The result is that millions of people struggle to hear everyday conversation and potentially suffer from isolation and depression because of it.
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017
Nearly four years ago, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submitted a recommendation that would make it possible for consumers to purchase hearing aids at retail stores without a prescription. They also would not need to go through multiple fitting appointments, and the cost would be in the hundreds rather than thousands of dollars.
Since the 2017 legislation is only a guideline and the FDA recommendation only suggested procedures, hearing professionals and representatives of community groups for the hard of hearing have little guidance on how to proceed.
There is also some controversy around the idea of OTC hearing aids. Audiologists feel concerned that people who do not have a hearing test before purchasing non-prescription hearing aids could damage their hearing further with overamplification. At the other end of the spectrum are hard-of-hearing individuals who do not receive the amplification they expected and give up on hearing aids altogether.
Executive Order May Make OTC Hearing Aids a Reality
President Joe Biden signed an executive order on July 9, 2021, that could potentially make hearing aids less expensive and more available. The executive order instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to provide clarity for 72 initiatives related to OTC hearing aids.
The momentum for this action has enjoyed growing support ever since President Donald Trump signed the OTC Act in 2017. However, the FDA did not follow through with any actions at that time. Many in the hearing health industry and people with hearing loss feel more hopeful than they have over the past four years with the recent executive action.
Hearables Offer Alternatives to Hearing Aids for Some
Today there are growing number of earbuds offering hearing enhancement functionalities. Known as “hearables,” these earbuds are not hearing aids, but they help to amplify sounds based on the user’s hearing profile and the current environment.
For example, a user might choose to dim down background conversations while chatting with a client during a business lunch at a noisy café. Alternatively, some devices enable users to stream audio from their television directly through their earbuds for a better listening experience.
Ultimately, between new legislation, pending over-the-counter hearing aids, and existing “hearables,” consumers today have a growing number of affordable hearing options.
- Briefing of president of US United States in White House. Podium: 123rf.com