Hearing aids now available on store shelves for reduced prices
Traditional hearing aids are generally not covered by health insurance, cost about $3,000 to $6,000 and require a prescription from an audiologist or other hearing professional. Now, over-the-counter hearing aids will be available on store shelves, without a prescription for as low as $199 per pair.
ROCHESTER — Starting Monday, hearing aids, which typically cost thousands of dollars, are available over-the-counter for dramatically reduced prices.
Traditional hearing aids are generally not covered by health insurance and cost, on average, $3,000 to $6,000, and require a prescription from an audiologist or other hearing professional. Now, over-the-counter hearing aids will be available on store shelves without a prescription for as low as $199 per pair.
Hearing care experts applaud what this means for access.
“This legislation change means many patients who may not have previously sought out hearing-aid technology will,” said Katie Kendhammer, a Mayo Clinic audiologist based in Owatonna, Minnesota. “Hopefully it will mean that patients who need access to quality products at a more affordable price will be able to get the benefit they need.”
Although almost 30 million U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, fewer than 30% of these adults have ever used hearing aids.
Peggy Nelson, an audiology researcher at the University of Minnesota, said many of these patients defer care because they are discouraged by the high costs or put off by having to wait for a professional appointment. Kendhammer added that some patients have trouble finding an audiologist or hearing care professional close to home, or fear the stigma around hearing aids and “looking old.”
Not only will the change alleviate some of these barriers, Kendhammer said patients could benefit from new product manufacturers entering the market.
“Companies that have extensive history of producing high quality personal sound amplifying or streaming devices (Bose, Sony, Jabra, etc) have the opportunity to bring their expertise and knowledge to the industry,” Kendhammer said.
The Monday, Oct. 17, announcement is the long-awaited result of a 2017 ruling by Congress, which ordered the Food and Drug and Administration to set rules that would enable over-the-counter hearing aid sales. Slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, President Joe Biden pushed to accelerate the process and issued an executive order in July 2021 calling for the FDA to proceed with implementation.
Starting today: Americans can buy hearing aids over the counter, without a prescription or exam.— The White House (@WhiteHouse) October 17, 2022
This will lower the price of a pair by nearly $3,000 – providing more breathing room for an estimated 30 million Americans. pic.twitter.com/u5U1vF2EbV
In an Aug. 16 news release , the FDA announced that consumers could see OTC hearing aids available in traditional retail and drug stores as soon as mid-October.
The $199 OTC hearing aid is available at Walmart. According to its Monday press release, Walmart said it will be offering OTC hearing aids, ranging from $199 to $999 per pair, from top brands such as Lexie powered by Bose and HearX. Walmart said to expect the hearing aids soon in stores nationwide.
Walgreens said it will offer Lexie Lumen hearing aids for $799. Sony will sell its hearing aid for $1,000 through Amazon, Best Buy and other hearing-care professionals.
OTC hearing aids partly cost less because they are “self-fitting” and don’t include the costs typically associated with traditional hearing aids, like a hearing evaluation and fitting session with an audiologist. However, Kendhammer worries that patients who purchase these products may have issues with fit and placement without a trained health care professional by their side.
While a prescription and audiology evaluation are not required prior to purchase, Kendhammer cautioned that, without an evaluation, patients could spend money on devices when they aren’t appropriate candidates, or patients who may benefit from medical intervention for underlying issues could miss out on care.
“Mayo encourages patients to seek out a hearing evaluation prior to purchasing so that an audiologist can help them better understand if over-the-counter devices may be a good fit for them,” Kendhammer said. “Also, be aware that these devices may not have return options, so be confident in your decision before purchasing.”
Amy Swain, owner of Amy Swain Hearing Centers in Minnesota, said that she thinks of OTC hearing aids as comparable to the “cheater” eyeglasses that patients can buy off the shelves without a prescription.
OTC hearing aids are only designed to help those with mild to moderate hearing loss, and without a proper prescription patients could waste their money on devices that are not customized to their unique hearing needs. However, she acknowledged that more accessible OTC hearing aids could help some patients take the plunge.
“Most people wait about seven years before they get hearing aids,” Swain said. “So maybe they will at least get some cheaters to help them realize what they really need and want.”