Hearing Aids Soon Available Over the Counter

Major chains are starting to sell them for much less than traditional hearing aids. Here are some tips for wearers.

By Jerilyn Klein

Starting in mid-October, adults with mild to moderate hearing loss can purchase over-the-counter hearing aids without a medical exam, prescription or audiologist fitting.

Major U.S. pharmacy operators Walgreens and Walmart will begin selling these devices to customers on October 17, Reuters reported. CVS sells some hearing devices online and “plans to add to these offerings and expand to retail stores in the near future,” the pharmacy chain told Reuters.

The U.S. Food and Drug with Administration adopted its final rule for OTC hearing aids on August 15, with an implementation date of mid-October, to make hearing aids more accessible and affordable to consumers.

According to a survey by Consumer Reports, people generally spend $2,680 out-of-pocket for their hearing devices. Medicare and many private insurance companies don’t cover them, the independent nonprofit member organization noted in its survey writeup.

The new OTC offerings cost significantly less. For example, Walgreens plans to make Lexie Lumen hearing aids available at its stores nationwide for $799 and Walmart’s devices, available at Walmart.com and its vision centers, will start at $200, reported Reuters.

Consider quality and features, too

Choosing the right OTC hearing aid is important and price should not be the only deciding factor. The quality and features on these new devices may not be as robust as what is offered by traditional hearing aids sporting higher price tags.

Brian Maguire, who oversees North American operations for Lexie Hearing, a world leader in hearing aids, recommends wearers consider the following when choosing a new device:

  • Get a digital hearing aid. It will have better features and functionality than analog hearing aids.
  • Look for “self-fit technology.”A person’s hearing is as unique as their fingerprint, and self-fit technology provides a more customized, and therefore a more clinically accurate, solution.
  • Look for a hearing aid that comes with free, remote support. Although wearers who opt for OTC hearing aids don’t have to rely on an audiologist for tuning and service, they’ll want a device that provides substitute service should they run into any challenges.
  • Review the App store ratings before purchasing. Many hearing aids can be adjusted from a phone app, which makes it more convenient for wearers. Make sure there’s a track record of happy customers.

In the end, consumers have to be comfortable with the devices they purchase. “The most important hearing aid is the one you will wear,” says Maguire.

The National Council on Aging recently published an independent review of hearing aids.

An untapped market

 Few older adults report are being screened or tested for hearing loss, according to the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. Just 16% of those age 50 to 64 and 25% of those age 65 to 80 said their primary care provider asked them about their hearing in the past two years. But 62% of respondents to the poll, co-sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, the university’s academic medical center, said it’s somewhat or very important to have hearing tests every two years.

Many older Americans may go shopping for devices, even if their doctors don’t bring it up. The number of older adults who are not wearing but could benefit from hearing aids is significant. Consider these statistics compiled by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders:

  • Nearly 25% of those aged 65 to 74 and 50% of those 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.
  • Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, only 30% have ever used them.
  • Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (approximately 16%) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.

Here’s another incentive to start wearing hearing aids: Medical researchers say hearing loss can contribute to dementia.

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