A new policy from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to make hearing aids more accessible and affordable in the US. The new policy will make hearing devices available over-the-counter as early as next fall.
Hearing aids currently cost more than $5,000 a pair and are not usually covered by Medicare or other insurers. The added cost of visiting an audiologist or hearing aid specialist makes these devices highly unaffordable for many who experience hearing loss.
According to data collected in the National Health Interview Survey, among adults over 70 who experience hearing loss, only one in three has ever tried a hearing aid. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that counties with the largest number of older adults with hearing loss also have the lowest numbers of audiologists, as these doctors generally prefer to practice in younger, wealthier areas.
The FDA was ordered to create a “basic” hearing aid design that could be purchased without a prescription or a doctor’s visit in 2015. After the passage of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, the department was forced to finally take action on the issue. The hope is that by lowering barriers to market, more companies will design devices, therefore lowering the cost of these essential medical supplies.
Although some medical professionals have expressed concern that the new regulations would result in low-quality products on the market, the FDA notes that their rigorous regulation policies will ensure that over-the-counter products are still high quality. “Today’s move by FDA takes us one step closer to the goal of making hearing aids more accessible and affordable for the tens of millions of people who experience mild to moderate hearing loss,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.