By this time next year, over-the-counter hearing aids could be available to people over 18 with ‘mild to moderate hearing loss,’ courtesy of the Food and Drug Administration.
As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hearing loss can have a profound negative impact on one’s quality of life. Conversations can become increasingly frustrating to maintain, while social gatherings grow increasingly isolating. Over time, the communication barriers created by hearing loss can strain personal, professional, and romantic relationships alike past their breaking point.
Consequently, hearing aids play a considerable role in counteracting the interpersonal issues created by hearing loss. In a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, for instance, 80% of participants reported significant benefits from hearing aid use. Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that regular hearing aid use not only improved quality of life, but could potentially even delay the onset of cognitive decline.
The evidence here speaks for itself. No matter how you look at it, hearing aids are invaluable in the treatment and management of hearing loss. Unfortunately, they’ve traditionally been nowhere near as accessible as they should be.
According to a 2018 survey by Consumer Reports, the average hearing aid user typically pays approximately $2,500 out of pocket for their device. Over half of the respondents in this survey noted that their insurance paid zero of these costs. Medicare, meanwhile, offers no coverage whatsoever.
Despite their clear benefits, it appears that hearing aids are still considered an elective in many circles. That hearing health, in general, is still mainly regarded as optional. We can, I suppose, add that to the list with dental and vision care.
This is precisely why the FDA’s proposal is so significant. Allowing patients to purchase hearing aids directly rather than having to go through exams and fittings considerably reduces their cost. And that, in turn, makes them more accessible, particularly to the people who need them most.
Instead of relying on personal sound amplification products or simply going without, these individuals can finally get the hearing help they need.
In a perfect world, hearing aids would be considered just as important as other medical devices. Healthcare providers would cover the entire cost of hearing assistance devices upfront, including assessment, prescription, fitting, and configuration. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world.
But the FDA’s ruling at least represents a step in the right direction. Not only will it make hearing aids more affordable, it could also lead to the emergence of a new line of affordable devices. But that’s a conversation for another day.
The new rule is currently open for public comment until January 20, 2022.
Dr Renee Flanagan is the Director of Audiological Care at HearingPlanet. She works with the training and development of Hearing Care staff so they may help the hearing impaired population by following best in class hearing healthcare practices.