This Monday, for the first time, adults with mild to moderate hearing loss in the US will be able to buy hearing aids without a prescription. Those under the age of 18 or those with severe hearing loss will still need a prescription.
The FDA announced the long-awaited rule change in August, opening the way to options that should be cheaper and possibly even better. Now, instead of getting a prescription and custom fitting from a hearing healthcare professional, adults can purchase hearing aids directly from a store or online. Some doctors estimate that 90% of the population with hearing loss could benefit from these over-the-counter devices. Experts say the move is a “tipping point”.
“We’ve been working toward affordable and accessible hearing health care for years,” said Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America.
The number of people with hearing loss is considerable. About 1 in 8 people age 12 and older in the US have hearing loss in both ears, and the rate increases significantly with age. About a quarter of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss, and this number increases to 50% around the age of 75.
On average, people spend at least $4,000 out of pocket on devices for both ears, according to a 2020 study published in the medical journal JAMA. Prices can vary: Large dealers may offer a pair for around $1,400, but some can go as high as $6,000 per ear, depending on the technology.
The FDA rule allowing the use of hearing aids without a prescription has not changed how these devices are covered. While private insurers pay for treatment after loss of a member or even cover the cost of Viagra, most do not cover hearing aids. Most Medicare plans don’t pay for them either. Only half of state Medicaid programs do.