On August 16, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids finally expanded the options available to the 40 million Americans with hearing loss, many of whom put off buying hearing aids due to the exorbitant costs involved.
In addition to cost, the Food and Drug Administration said the new regulations also cut red tape by creating a new class of hearing aids that don’t require a medical exam, a prescription, or other specialty evaluations. Instead, the devices will be sold online or over the counter at pharmacies and other retail stores.
The devices are intended for adults with mild to moderate hearing problems. The FDA estimates that nearly 30 million adults could potentially benefit from hearing aid use, but only about one-fifth of people with hearing problems use the devices currently.
Substantial cost savings have millions listening. Federal officials estimated a $2,800 savings on the cost of a pair of hearing aids. “Hearing loss is a critical public health issue that affects the ability of millions of Americans to communicate effectively in their daily social interactions,” explains FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. “Establishing this new regulatory category will allow people with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss to have convenient access to an array of safe, effective, and affordable hearing aids from their neighborhood store or online.”
“Hearing is how we connect with all our relationships on the job and family life. And when that starts to break down, it interrupts everything. Now we know that untreated hearing loss is associated with falls, which is why so many older people end up in the emergency room. When people can’t hear the conversation, they can’t participate and start to withdraw. And we know that isolation leads to depression and anxiety. So it’s essential that people start considering hearing health as part of overall health,” says Barbara Kelly, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Since April 14, 2023, manufacturers of OTC hearing aids must be in compliance with new FDA regulations. To ensure you are getting quality hearing aids, the National Council on Aging’s (NCOA) resource, FDA Hearing Aids Guidance: 2023 Compliance, has information about the regulations and how they can help you find quality OTC hearing aids. Additionally, NCOA has guidance on how to avoid OTC hearing aid scams.
Many familiar retailers offer low-cost devices. For example, Walmart offers an assortment of OTC hearing aids, ranging from $199 – $999 per pair. Walgreens, CVS, and Best Buy also carry these devices online and in some stores.
Other Free or Low-Cost Hearing Aid resources include:
- Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation. The application is available on their website (www.olshf.org).
- The Starkey Hearing Foundation has an application process through its Hear Now program. Call 503-413-7399 for more information.
- The National Hearing Aid Project assists low-income seniors with finding hearing aids. They may not be free, but they are very low cost. Visit www.hearingaiddonations.org.
- You may qualify for a free hearing aid through Medicaid and the Veterans Administration.
- Seniors who have hearing loss may be able to get a free phone from CaptionCall (www.captioncall.com). The phones have a screen interface that provides captioning for incoming calls.
The new over-the-counter devices don’t cover more severe hearing loss devices, which will remain prescription only.