Hearing aids now offered over-the-counter at lesser pricing

Hearing aids now offered over-the-counter at lesser pricing

As a result of the implementation of a 2017 federal law, consumers will be able to purchase hearing aids directly off store shelves and at significantly reduced costs beginning on Monday.

For decades, devices that required a prescription from an audiologist or other hearing professional cost thousands of dollars; now, a new category of over-the-counter hearing aides sells for hundreds of dollars. Walmart reports that it will sell hearing aids for as low as $199.

The over-the-counter aids are designed for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss – a market of tens of millions of people, many of whom avoided obtaining help in the past due to the high cost of devices.

Dr. Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, stated, “From a conceptual standpoint, it’s enormous that this is finally occurring.” He thinks that it will take a couple of years for the new market to stabilize as manufacturers, merchants, and consumers adjust to selling aids and grow acquainted with the available possibilities.

Hearing care specialists are happy with the price reductions. Lin stated that he anticipates prices will decline more in the next two years as more competitors enter the market.

The prices and features of the new over-the-counter hearing aids will vary similarly to those of prescription aids. Typically, a pair of prescription devices costs between $2,000 and $8,000. Some of the technology present in the more expensive prescription aids will be included in the less expensive over-the-counter products.

The over-the-counter hearing aids are less expensive in part because they do not include the services of an audiologist for a hearing evaluation, fitting, and fine-tuning. Instead, consumers are expected to set up the new devices themselves, but manufacturers will give technical support via apps and phone.

Some new companies, like Sony, have entered the market. Best Buy and other retailers will sell their lowest-priced, self-fitting OTC hearing aid for $999.

Walmart announced that it will provide a variety of over-the-counter hearing aids, including several priced between $199 and $299 per pair from the South African business hearX, which also manufactures Lexie devices. Initial availability will be in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas Walmart locations. However, the company anticipates that they will soon be available nationwide.

Walgreens will sell the Lexie Lumen over-the-counter hearing aid for $799 a pair. In addition to Walgreens, CVS, Best Buy, and Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart will carry Bose’s Lexie hearing aid.

Costco, one of the leading marketers of hearing aids supplied by an audiologist, declined to comment on whether or not it will provide any over-the-counter.

De Wet Swanepoel, co-founder of hearX, stated that consumers will be able to customize the Lexie Lumen OTC hearing aid to meet their needs. Other over-the-counter products will have preprogrammed settings.

“There are numerous items on the market, and users will require a great deal of education regarding the differences between gadgets,” he said.

Lin stated that some consumers may wish to visit an audiologist in person or online for a hearing test prior to purchasing an OTC aid. An audiologist could also prescribe the best hearing aid for their type of hearing impairment. Customary fee-for-service Medicare and the majority of health insurance providers cover routine hearing testing. Medicare and the majority of private insurers, however, do not cover the cost of hearing aids. However, a number of private Medicare Advantage plans do.

Lin stated that consumers can also take hearing tests online or via a mobile application.

A further aspect that could increase demand for the new devices is the reducing stigma associated with hearing aid use, as individuals increasingly use ear devices to listen to music.

Federal health experts estimate that more than 37 million American adults have problems hearing, but barely one in four persons who could benefit from a hearing aid use one.

Due to consolidation among manufacturers, broad state licensing regulations mandating sales through audiologists or other hearing specialists, and the acquisition of hearing professionals’ practices by device-makers, the hearing aid sector has been largely shielded from price competition.

In response to decades of complaints about the high cost of hearing aids, Congress mandated in 2017 that the Food and Drug Administration establish guidelines permitting over-the-counter sales, with the expectation that this would increase competition and reduce prices. However, the covid epidemic hampered the FDA’s efforts, and last year President Joe Biden ordered the FDA to develop these regulations. Two months ago, the final regulations were announced. The federal regulations exempt the new type of hearing aids from state dispensing laws.

Audiologists, who stand to lose revenue, warn that the new category will not benefit those with profound hearing loss. And excessive sound amplification can harm hearing, according to Sarah Sydlowski, former president of the American Academy of Audiology.

However, Nicholas Reed, an audiologist and assistant professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, stated that the gadgets are probably safer than listening to music with earbuds tuned up too loudly. The laws require new hearing aids to have safe maximum audio levels to protect the hearing of consumers.

Tom Powers, an industry consultant for hearing aids in New Jersey, stated that the new devices will be prominently labeled as FDA-approved, and users should be on the lookout for this. These differ from simple consumer devices that increase sound without addressing other aspects of hearing loss, such as distortion.

Reed suggests searching for over-the-counter hearing aids with return policies beyond one month. Consumers may choose to test a product for a few weeks to determine its efficacy. If one brand is unsuccessful, they should try another.

It is uncertain whether consumers will receive in-store assistance in selecting a hearing aid without an audiologist, thus switching may be essential. Some retailers intend to offer support. Walmart stated that it would include information on its website to assist customers in locating suitable gadgets.

Reed added that consumers should look for devices branded “self-fitting” since it indicates that the manufacturers have demonstrated to the FDA that anyone can set up these devices as effectively as with expert assistance.

Reed remarked, “There is nothing wrong with consulting a qualified audiologist if you are technologically adept.”

Nancy M. Williams, the president of Auditory Insight, a hearing health care management consulting organization, stated that she evaluated eight major over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids ranging in price from $499 to $1,299. Some resemble earbuds or are practically undetectable, but others resemble standard hearing aids that wrap over the ear. She discovered that the majority of over-the-counter (OTC) aids have little or no Bluetooth connectivity, a feature that enables users to personalize the gadgets, and that only around half have rechargeable batteries. However, all eight allow the user to customize the devices based on their hearing test results.

She suggests that individuals try at least three over-the-counter remedies to determine which one works best.

The American Academy of Audiology, a professional association for audiologists, has offered online information for customers regarding over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, and the Hearing Loss Association of America, a consumer advocacy organization, also offers online guidance.

The Hearing Loss Association of America’s executive director, Barbara Kelley, advised clients to take their time while evaluating new choices. She stated, “This is all going to be a bit perplexing.” She said that the new possibilities will result in more individuals receiving hearing aids. She stated, “The benefits exceed the hazards.”

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