The FDA has recently announced that hearing aids will now be available over the counter. How will this work and what will it cost?
Nearly one quarter of those aged 65 to 74 and half of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss. Unfortunately, among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss, only 30% have ever used hearing aid. The vast majority of people who experience hearing loss use Medicare as their primary insurance. Unfortunately Medicare does not cover hearing aids.
Hearing aids can range from 2-7K. Usually they last 3-7 years, so this is not a one time expense. There are also costs for tests and fittings to take into consideration. Even if your insurance were to cover these preliminary costs, most insurances do NOT cover hearing aids.
This is a rather large medical expense. Unfortunately, it’s really not something that those in need can do without. Hearing loss without treatment socially isolating. Also, it’s been indicated that lack of auditory stimulation can be a factor in developing dementia.
But the high costs and multiple medical appointments (an average of two to three audiology visits to acquire) needed for these medically necessary devices can be prohibitive. Especially for those on a budget.
The FDA has cleared the way for the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids. It will now be possible for people to purchase these instruments without medical exams or fittings.
How Do Hearing Aids Work?
Hearing aids work by amplifying sound through a three-part system:
- The microphone receives sound and converts it into a digital signal
- The amplifier increases the strength of the digital signal
- The speaker produces the amplified sound into the ear
They can be customized for an individual’s hearing loss. First, a hearing testing is performed. The hearing aids are programmed based on the test. They have automatic features that can adjust settings in different environments.
OTC Hearing Aids
OTC devices will offer a do-it-yourself approach to addressing hearing loss. For example, people might be able to use a smartphone app to measure and and make adjustments to best fit their hearing needs.
For mild or moderate hearing loss, your smart phone will likely use acoustic coupling. You can use the phone as normal, and your microphone will automatically pick up the sound coming from the phone. Unfortunately, it also may pick up some background noise.
Look for what’s known as the M Rating when selecting a phone. The M rating ranges from 1 to 4. 4 has the best compatibility.
For more severe hearing loss, you can use “telecoil”. Telecoils direct sound to the hearing aid’s processor without using the microphone. Look for what’s known as the T rating when selecting a phone. The T rating also ranges from 1 to 4. Like the M rating, in the T rating, 4 is the best. Luckily, many cell phones today are T4.
How to Choose
It typically takes an average of four to five years after people recognize their hearing loss! It can then take an additional six years to obtain a hearing aid. With this new law, people will be able to purchase OTC hearing aids as soon as they become aware of their hearing difficulties.
But how to choose? Your local pharmacist should be able to help. Pharmacists have long been one of the most accessible medical professionals. They are often on the front lines of community interaction.
Additionally, pharmacists additionally have long helped patients purchase medical devices and equipment like glucometers and blood pressure monitors. New online courses are available to teach pharmacists and pharmacy technicians how to help patients safely choose OTC hearing aids.
OTC hearing aids should be hitting the shelves come mid October although companies have until 2023 to fully comply.
And now for the best news of all…although prescription hearing aids cost thousands of dollars, these OTC versions will cost a few hundred dollars!
Now of course, audiologists still want people to know that should you experience pain or sudden or drastic hearing loss, you should still see a doctor.
Jesse Smedley is the Principal Broker for iHealthBrokers and the founder, president, and CEO of Smedley Insurance Group, Inc. and iHealthBrokers.com. Since the inception of SIG in 2007, Jesse has been dedicated to helping people save money on their health insurance by providing them with resources to educate themselves on all their health insurance options, both under age 65 and Medicare beneficiaries. He is featured in many publications as well as writes regularly for expert columns regarding health insurance and Medicare.