As a result of a 2017 federal regulation finally going into force, people will be able to purchase hearing aids straight off shop shelves and at much cheaper costs as of Monday.
A new class of over-the-counter aids are now retailing for hundreds of dollars while for decades it cost thousands of dollars to acquire a device that could only be bought with a prescription from an audiologist or other hearing practitioner. According to Walmart, hearing aids will start at only $199.
The over-the-counter aids are designed for individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss, a market with tens of millions of consumers, many of whom have delayed seeking treatment in the past due to the high cost of available technology.
According to Dr. Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, “from a conceptual point of view, this is tremendous that this is now occurring.” As stores and manufacturers grow used to selling assistance and customers get acclimated to the possibilities, he expects it may take a few years for the new market to settle.
Experts in the field of hearing care say they are happy to see the decreased costs. According to Lin, as more businesses join the market over the next two years, prices will continue to decline.
The new OTC hearing devices will come in a variety of price ranges and feature sets, much like prescription hearing aids. Typically, a pair of prescription devices costs between $2,000 and $8,000. The less expensive OTC aids will have access to some of the same technologies present in the more expensive prescription treatments.
The OTC aids are less expensive in part because an audiologist’s services for fitting, fine-tuning, and a hearing exam are not included. The new gadgets are instead designed to be set up by the users themselves, while the producers will provide technical support via apps and phone calls.
The market has seen the entry of certain new businesses, such Sony. At Best Buy and other outlets, it will offer its least expensive, self-fitting OTC hearing aid for $999.
According to Walmart, it will provide a range of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, including some from the South African business hearX, which also manufactures Lexie devices, priced between $199 and $299 per pair. The first Walmart locations to carry the gadgets will be in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. But the business anticipates releasing them throughout the country shortly.
The Lexie Lumen OTC hearing aids are available at Walgreens for $799 per pair. A Lexie hearing aid created in collaboration with Bose will also be available at Walgreens, CVS, Best Buy, and Walmart.
One of the biggest retailers of hearing aids prescribed by a hearing specialist, Costco, refused to say if it would sell any over-the-counter.
According to De Wet Swanepoel, co-founder of hearX, the Lexie Lumen OTC hearing aid would let users customize it to meet their requirements. Preprogrammed settings will be available for other OTC devices.
There are many items on the market, and users will need to be well-informed about the differences between various gadgets, he added.
Before purchasing an OTC aid, some customers may choose to get their hearing checked by an audiologist, either in person or online, according to Lin. The ideal hearing aid for their particular kind of hearing loss may also be suggested by an audiologist. standard fee-for-service Routine hearing exams are covered by Medicare and most health insurance. Although many private Medicare Advantage plans do, neither Medicare nor the majority of private insurers pay the cost of hearing aids.
According to Lin, customers may also test their hearing online or using an application on their phone or computer.
The fact that wearing a hearing aid is becoming less taboo as more people use ear devices to listen to music is another reason that might increase demand for the new gadgets.
According to federal health experts, more than 37 million individuals in America struggle with hearing, yet just one in four of those who may benefit from a hearing aid have ever used one.
Due to corporate consolidation, broad state licensing regulations that require sales via audiologists or other hearing specialists, and the purchase of hearing professionals’ practices by device companies, the hearing aid business has generally avoided price competition.
Congress ordered the Food and Drug Administration to establish guidelines that would allow over-the-counter sales in 2017 in response to decades of complaints about the high cost of hearing aids, in the hopes that this would increase competition and drive down costs.
However, the avian influenza epidemic hampered the FDA’s efforts, and President Joe Biden this year ordered the FDA to draft such regulations.
Two months ago, the final rules were released. According to federal regulations, the new class of hearing aids is exempt from state dispensing legislation.
Audiologists warn that the new category won’t benefit those with severe hearing loss since they risk losing clients. Additionally, according to Sarah Sydlowski, former president of the American Academy of Audiology, excessive sound amplification may harm hearing.
However, according to Nicholas Reed, an audiologist and assistant professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, the gadgets are probably less risky than excessively loud music listening.
To further safeguard customers’ hearing, the laws mandate that the new aids have safe maximum audio levels.
The new gadgets will be prominently labeled as FDA authorized, according to Tom Powers, a hearing aid industry expert in New Jersey. Consumers should look for that.
These are not like cheap personal devices that increase sound but don’t deal with other aspects of hearing loss, such as distortion.
Reed advises searching for over-the-counter hearing aids with extensive return policies that last longer than a month. For a few weeks, customers may wish to test out a product to see how it performs. They ought to try an other brand if the first doesn’t work.
It’s uncertain if customers will get in-store assistance in picking an aid without an audiologist, so switching may be essential. Some retailers intend to provide support. Walmart promised to provide information on its website to assist customers in selecting the best gadgets.
Customers should seek out devices with the “self-fitting” designation, according to Reed, since it signifies that the manufacturers have shown to the FDA that consumers can set up these devices just as well on their own as they could with expert assistance.
Reed said, “If you are computer adept, then hop right in,” adding that “talking to a skilled audiologist is not a problem.”
A hearing health care management consulting company’s president, Nancy M. Williams, claimed to have examined eight popular over-the-counter hearing aids, ranging in price from $499 to $1,299. While some resemble earbuds or are almost undetectable, others resemble conventional hearing aids that wrap over the ear.
Only roughly half of the OTC aids she examined had rechargeable batteries, and the majority lack Bluetooth connection, a feature that enables users to modify the gadgets.
However, each of the eight enables the user to customize the gadgets in accordance with the findings of their hearing test.
She advises patients to test at least three OTC remedies to see which one suits them the best.
Consumer guidance on over-the-counter hearing aids is available online from the Hearing Loss Association of America and the American Academy of Audiology, two professional associations for audiologists.
The Hearing Loss Association of America’s executive director, Barbara Kelley, advised customers to take their time examining other products. She remarked, “I think it’s going to be a bit perplexing.”
However, she said, the additional possibilities will result in more individuals receiving assistance with their hearing. She declared, “The advantages outweigh the risks.”