The high cost of hearing aids might be coming down

Photo credit: ReSound licensed under CC BY 3.0

Paula Span, the New York Times, writes about legislation making its way through Congress that could make hearing aids cheaper and more accessible. Currently, people needing hearing aids must spend at least $1,500 to $2,000 per hearing aid–double that for a pair–because the price includes bundled audiology services. But under the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, the Food and Drug Administration would be charged with creating “a regulatory category for [over-the-counter] devices and to establish standards for safety, effectiveness and labeling.”

One reason hearing aids would be significantly cheaper if this bill is enacted is that consumers would not have to go to an audiologist to get them, as they are required to do today. Rather, consumers could opt to purchase audiology services to help adjust each device, but they wouldn’t be required to do so.

And lowering the cost is important as hearing aid wearers tend to be older and “Medicare coverage of hearing aids [is] prohibited by law.” But can consumers adequately adjust their own hearing aids? Swan reports on an Indiana University double-blind clinical trial where researchers worked with participants who never wore hearing aids before. The researchers “compared the experiences of those randomly assigned to full-bore audiology services and those making over-the-counter selections,” and determined that “[i]t didn’t matter whether the audiologist fitted them or the consumer made his own choice…[t]hey both were effective, and they didn’t differ.” Given that hearing loss has a profound effect on overall health and not just hearing health, providing a low-cost option to seniors makes a lot of sense.

But Daniel Fink, MD, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, says that hearing aids do not work as well as people may suspect, which is why many people who have them rarely use them. Rather than focusing all of our attention and resources on treating hearing loss after it occurs, Dr. Fink believes we should also be focusing our efforts on preventing hearing loss in the first instance. As Dr. Fink notes, noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, and we could greatly diminish the instances of these disorders by reasonably regulating noise and making people aware that loud sound today means hearing loss tomorrow.

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