Hearing loss or degradation is common in the United States, especially among the aging population.
Hearing aids have done a lot to restore this sensory loss, but according to AARP, two-thirds of people over 50 who might benefit from hearing aids don't use them.
“One reason may be sticker shock,” AARP says. “The average price of a single hearing aid is $2,300, according to a 2015 report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. And most people need two.”
The seniors advocacy group cites a Consumer Reports study that found the average retail markup for these devices is 117%.
That's gotten the attention of a couple of lawmakers who, until now, have mostly been focused on the high cost of prescription drugs. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are co-sponsoring legislation they say could make hearing aids accessible to more consumers.
Their bill – the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2016 – would allow certain types of hearing aids to be sold over the counter (OTC) at retail stores. Warren says the measure addresses the cost issue and would make it easier for consumers to shop for the best value. Grassley says it's a common sense move.
Similar to buying reading glasses
“If you can buy non-prescription reading glasses over the counter, it makes sense that you should be able to buy basic, safe hearing aids, too,” he said.
Grassley says it's all about lowering costs, and to do that he says you need competition. But he concedes the option would not be for everyone.
“This won't affect those who need professional expertise to be fitted for hearing aids or have hearing aids implanted,” Grassley said. The over the counter option is for those who would benefit from a simpler device."
Both the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine back making some types of hearing aids available over the counter and removing the requirement of a medical evaluation.
After studying the issue, PCAST pointed to “considerable evidence” that hearing aid manufacturers can still be profitable selling their products for “a fraction of today's end-user cost."