In 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a proposed rule that would make some hearing aids available for over-the-counter (OTC) purchase. After studying the proposal, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has endorsed the idea. The agency has submitted comments to the FDA in which it agrees that making hearing aids an OTC product would be good for consumers.
While millions suffer from hearing loss, the FTC comment notes that many people don’t have them because of their cost. In recent years, some companies have begun selling lower-cost hearing aids online. Consumers still need an audiologist's prescription, but prices tend to be significantly lower.
One company, Audicus, claims to be as much as 70% cheaper than many competitors’ hearing aids. It’s a popular brand with ConsumerAffairs reviewers, earning 4.4 out of 5 stars.
“I purchased a set of Audicus hearing aids, and I am impressed with the quality to cost ratio,” John, of Farmington, N.M., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review.
John also said he was pleased with the support he received from the company. Bruce, of New York City, tells us that he is on his third generation of Audicus hearing aids.
“I investigated things for price, for size, for range of amelioration of hearing, and they seemed to fit well,” he wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “I went to another company before this and the hearing aid just did not measure up.”
Bruce said he bought the Audicus hearing aids after comparing them to a set that cost $7,500. The FTC said it believes making hearing aids OTC would lead to more lower-priced devices and bring down prices on some of the more expensive models.
Barriers other than costs
In the agency's comments, FTC staff members suggest that barriers to hearing aid access may include more than just prices for hearing aids themselves.
The agency points to what it calls “restricted channels of distribution” as a factor that can limit consumer choice. It says hearing aids are often marketed in expensive bundles of hearing aids and extended services that many consumers may not want or be likely to use.