Science

When the 2017 law goes into effect, over-the-counter hearing aids are available for as little as $199 without a prescription

Consumers will be able to shop from Monday Hearing aids straight from store shelves And dramatically lower prices as a 2017 federal law eventually takes effect.

Where for decades it cost thousands of dollars to obtain a device that could only be purchased with a prescription from an audiologist or other hearing professional, now a new class of over-the-counter aids is selling for hundreds of dollars. . Walmart says it will sell the hearing aid for $199.

Over-the-counter aids are intended for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss – a market of millions, many of whom have until now avoided getting help because the devices were so expensive.

“From a conceptual standpoint, it’s huge that this is finally happening,” said Dr., director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Frank Lynn said. He predicts that it may take a few years for the new market to shake up as manufacturers and retailers become accustomed to selling aids and consumers become familiar with the options.

Hearing care experts say they are happy to see the lower prices. Lin said he expects prices to drop further as more competitors enter the market over the next two years.

Prices and features will vary for new OTC hearing aids – just like they do for prescription aids. A pair of prescription devices typically sells for $2,000 to $8,000. Some of the techniques found in more expensive prescription aids will be available in cheaper OTC aids.

OTC aids cost less partly because they don’t bundle the services of an audiologist for hearing evaluation, fitting, and fixing the device. Instead, the new devices are intended to be installed by consumers themselves, although manufacturers will provide technical support through apps and phones.

Some new companies including Sony have entered the market. It will sell its lowest-cost, self-fitting OTC hearing aid at Best Buy and other retailers for $999.

sony hearing aids
Sony has entered the over-the-counter hearing aid market with two new products. One is the CRE-C10, a pair of self-fitting hearing aids that will be available at major retailers.

Sony Electronics


Walmart said it will offer OTC hearing aids, ranging from some $199 to $299 per pair, from HearX, a South Africa-based company that also makes Lexi devices. Initially, the devices will be available at Walmart stores in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. But the company hopes to make them available nationwide soon.

Walgreens will offer the Lexie Lumen OTC Hearing Aid for $799 per pair. Offerings from Walgreens, CVS, Best Buy, and Walmart will also include a Lexie hearing aid developed in partnership with Bose.

Costco, one of the largest sellers of hearing aids distributed through a hearing professional, would not reveal whether it would offer any over the counter.

De Wet Swanepoel, co-founder of HearX, said its Lexi Lumen OTC hearing aid will allow consumers to program it to their needs. Other OTC devices will offer preprogrammed settings.

“There are a lot of products on the market and a lot of education is needed for consumers about what the differences are between the devices,” he said.

Lin said some consumers want to see an audiologist in person or online to test their hearing before purchasing an OTC aid. An audiologist can also recommend which hearing aid is best for their type of hearing loss. Medicare and most health insurers cover routine hearing tests, the traditional fee for the service. But Medicare and most private insurers do not cover the cost of hearing aids, although many private Medicare Advantage plans do.

Lin said consumers can also take hearing tests on their phones or computers online or through an app.

Another factor that could drive demand for new devices is that the stigma of wearing hearing aids is decreasing as people generally use in-ear devices to listen to music.

Federal health officials estimate that more than 37 million American adults have hearing loss, and only 1 in 4 adults who could benefit from a hearing aid has used one.

The hearing aid industry has been largely untouched by price competition due to consolidation among manufacturers, extensive state licensing laws that mandate sales through audiologists or other hearing professionals, and acquisition of hearing professionals’ practices by device-makers. does.

Inspired by decades of complaints about the high cost of hearing aids, Congress in 2017 ordered the Food and Drug Administration to set rules that would enable over-the-counter sales, with the hope that This will promote competition and lower prices. But the Covid pandemic slowed the FDA’s effort, and last year President Joe Biden ordered the FDA to produce those regulations. The final rules were announced two months ago. Under federal regulations, the new class of hearing aids bypasses state distribution laws.

Audiologists, who could lose business, caution that the new category will not help people with severe hearing loss. And over-amplified sound can damage hearing, said Sarah Sidlowski, former president of the American Academy of Audiology.

However, Nicholas Reid, an audiologist and assistant professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, said the devices are less dangerous than listening to music with earbuds. Regulations require a safe maximum audio level for new aids to help protect consumers’ hearing.

Tom Powers, a hearing aid industry consultant in New Jersey, said the new devices would be clearly labeled as approved by the FDA and that consumers should watch out for it. These are different from inexpensive personal devices that amplify sound but do not address other components of hearing loss, such as distortion.

Reid recommends looking for OTC hearing aids with generous return policies of no more than one month. Consumers may want to try the device out for a few weeks to see how it works. If one brand doesn’t work, they should try another.

It may be necessary to switch, as it is not clear whether consumers will find in-store assistance choosing assistance without an audiologist. Some stores plan to provide support. Walmart said it would include information on its website to help people find the right device for them.

Reed also said that consumers should look for devices labeled as “self-fitting” because it shows that companies have proven to the FDA that people can install these devices themselves as well. They can also get professional help as well.

“If you’re tech-savvy, I say jump straight in,” Reid said, though noting that “there’s nothing wrong with talking to a trained audiologist.”

Nancy M. Williams, president of Auditory Insight, a hearing health care management consulting firm, said she reviewed eight leading OTC hearing aid products, ranging from $499 to $1,299. Some look like earbuds or are almost invisible, while some look like traditional hearing aids that wrap around the ear. The OTC aids they reviewed have largely limited or no Bluetooth connectivity, a feature that allows users to customize devices, and only half have rechargeable batteries. But all eight allow the user to personalize the devices based on the results of their hearing test.

She recommends that people try at least three OTC aids to see which one works best for them.

The American Academy of Audiology, a professional organization for audiologists, posts online information for consumers about OTC hearing aids, and the Hearing Loss Association of America, a consumer advocacy group, also offers advice online.

Barbara Kelly, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America, said consumers should take their time looking at new options. “It’s all a little confusing,” she said. But the new options, he said, will help more people get their hearing. “The benefits outweigh the risks,” she said.


KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that conducts in-depth journalism about health issues. Along with policy analysis and polling, KHN is one of three major operational programs. kff (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a thriving non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

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