In early August, the U.S. Senate passed the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, with a rare bipartisan vote of 94-1, that will make hearing aids more accessible for all Americans. The new law will make hearing aids available over the counter, and getting access to an affordable hearing aid may soon be as easy as picking up a new pair of reading glasses at the pharmacy.
Hearing loss is not a small problem in America. In fact, according to reports, more than 48 million Americans currently suffer from it, and 85 percent of people who could benefit from a hearing aid are not using one. One reason many adults opt not to get a hearing aid is because of cost. The current average cost of a hearing aid is now more than $2,300 per hearing aid (and many people require a pair of them) — and many insurance plans — both private and via Medicare — will not cover them for the insured.
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act was sponsored by Democratic senators in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Missouri, and Republican senators in Iowa, Georgia, Maine and Tennessee. The new law will make certain types of hearing aids available to people over-the-counter. These hearing aids are geared towards people who have mild to moderate impairment. Another part of the law will make the FDA write new regulations regarding over-the-counter hearing aids, to ensure that the new widely available devices meet specific standards. The will regulate standards for labeling processes, manufacturing and safety measures.
There will be many positive outcomes, thanks to the new hearing aid legislation. Sufferers of hearing loss across the country will be able to get access to convenient, affordable hearing devices, which can help combat isolation, depression and other risk factors that come without being able to hear well. However, there are some drawbacks that may accompany the passage of the legislation, as well. Patients who choose not to go to the audiologist may miss a diagnosis of a more serious condition causing their hearing loss — like tumors. Or, they may not need hearing aids at all, and just have impacted wax. Also, experts worry that consumers may not know how to pick or use over-the-counter hearing aids properly, missing out on many of their benefits.