More than 37 million U.S. adults are living with some hearing loss, but only about one-fourth of those who might benefit from a hearing aid have used one.1 Cost is a big obstacle: The average price of a pair of prescription hearing aids runs about $4,600. Traditional Medicare and most health insurers cover routine hearing tests but not the cost of hearing aids, although some private Medicare Advantage plans may help cover them. But thanks to a recent regulatory shift, it’s now possible to buy an effective hearing aid without a medical exam or a prescription, potentially for a lot less money.2
In an effort to spur competition and lower prices, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released final rules for a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids specifically for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. These OTC hearing aids are designed to be self-fitting, and they cost less, partly because they don’t require the services of an audiologist to evaluate the person’s hearing and fit or tune the device. Consumers who purchase OTC hearing aids should be able to set them up by themselves or with technical support provided by manufacturers through apps or over the phone.
Well-known manufacturers are rolling out an assortment of OTC hearing aids, many of them costing as little as $200 to $500 per ear. Some wrap around the ear like traditional hearing aids, but others look more like ear buds or are nearly invisible. They are already available at many stores where health-care devices are sold, or online, but this brand-new market should continue to expand over time. Hearing loss is often progressive, and research shows that people wait an average of 10 years before buying a hearing aid.3 Thus, there is some hope that easy access to more affordable — and less conspicuous — options could encourage more people who have trouble hearing to seek help sooner.
Tips for Consumers
OTC hearing aids must be clearly labeled as FDA approved, which should help shoppers distinguish them from unregulated personal devices that may amplify sound but don’t correct other issues, such as distortion. Consumers are advised to ask about the retailer’s return policy in case they are disappointed with the performance of their new hearing aid.
Individuals with severe or sudden hearing loss, as well as those who experience ear pain, vertigo, or tinnitus, should consult an audiologist for testing and treatment. Some people with mild to moderate hearing loss may still want to have their hearing tested by an audiologist, who might be able to help identify OTC hearing aids that may work well for their specific condition.
1) National Institutes of Health, 2022
2-3) National Council on Aging, 2022
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