HEALTH

Hearing aids: Americans can now buy them over-the-counter



CNN

Pete Cust said it was his wife who first noticed he was turning the TV louder than he liked.

“I couldn’t hear much of the words in the movies anymore,” admitted Couste, who lives just outside Washington, DC.

Custo’s problem isn’t just watching TV. In his church choir, he can’t always hear his part and get the pitch right. It also inspired his work at the Fire Safety Research Institute, a non-profit organization that produces safety research. The 61-year-old said that when his team makes life-saving videos for firefighters, it feels less effective in judging sound quality.

“It affects every part of my life,” he said.

He saw a hearing specialist who said he needed hearing aids, but they cost more than $6,000.

That was seven years ago.

The wait may be over for Couste and millions of other Americans. On Monday, adults with mild to moderate hearing loss will be able to purchase over-the-counter hearing aids for the first time in the United States. A prescription is required for those under the age of 18 and those with severe hearing loss.

In July, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to encourage competition. This encouraged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow over-the-counter hearing aids, and the FDA announced a long-awaited rule change in August. The move yields cheaper and possibly even better options.

Now, instead of getting a prescription and going to a hearing care professional for a custom fit, adults can buy hearing aids directly in store or online. Some doctors estimate that his 90% of the population with hearing loss could benefit from these over-the-counter devices.

Experts say the move is a “game changer.”

“We have been working for years to make hearing health care affordable and accessible,” said Barbara Kelly, executive director of the American Deaf Association. “We are really looking forward to Monday.”

According to Kelly, Custo wasn’t the only one who gave up hearing aids because they were too expensive. Only about 16% do.

The number of people with hearing loss is significant. In the United States, 1 in 8 of her over the age of 12 has hearing loss in both ears, and the percentage increases significantly with age. About a quarter of her 74-year-olds from age 65 have hearing loss, and by age 75 he has up to 50%.

On average, people pay at least $4,000 out of pocket for binaural devices, according to a 2020 study published in the medical journal JAMA. Prices may fluctuate. Larger retailers may offer a pair for around $1,400, while some technologies can cost as much as $6,000 per ear.

The FDA’s rule allowing over-the-counter hearing aids did not change how hearing aids are covered. Private insurance companies cover the cost of treatment after amputation and Viagra, but most do not cover hearing aids. Most Medicare plans don’t cover those costs either. Only about half of state Medicaid programs do.

5 companies so far It controls 90% of the global market for hearing aids. Such consolidation meant little price competition.

This change is expected to bring more companies into the market. Incumbent manufacturers will also develop lower-cost commercial devices alongside their current offerings, experts say.

The White House said Monday that the hearing aids are available or coming soon at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Best Buy and Hivie, with some models priced as low as about $200 a pair.

Sony has several models that are paired with apps that allow users to personalize settings and find additional support.The CRE-C10 retails for $999.99 and offers up to 70 hours of continuous use. of battery life. The CRE-E10 has an earbud-like design and a rechargeable battery. Compatible with Bluetooth for streaming music and audio. Available on Sony’s website, Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers for $1,299.99.

Bose has also partnered with Lexie Hearing to offer the B1 model for $899 a pair. B2 is $999 and to add Rechargeable battery for up to 18 hours of operation. Both models are Bluetooth enabled and can be adjusted by the wearer or paired with a mobile app for support. Available online, in drugstores, and in stores such as Best Buy.

According to Best Buy, about 300 stores will offer “hearing experiences,” including about 10 over-the-counter hearing aids and PSAPs, or personal sound amplification products. They improve sound, but like other medical devices, they don’t have to meet FDA standards, unlike hearing aids, which must meet the FDA’s high standards for labeling, manufacturing, and safety.

Best Buy encourages customers to take a hearing assessment on its website before coming to the store to work with trained sales associates to select new devices.

Hearing aids are not only convenient to have. They are essential for physical and mental health.

Studies have found that hearing-impaired people who don’t have hearing aids are more likely to report poorer overall health and are less likely to leave the house or exercise.

According to the World Health Association, there is an association between hearing loss and general frailty, as well as an increased risk of falls, which are the second leading cause of unintentional death worldwide.

Several studies have also found associations between hearing loss and poorer mental and psychosocial health.

Hearing loss can lead to depression, loneliness, isolation, and even dementia.

With easier access to hearing aids, “I have a big smile on my face now,” says Dr. Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Hearing Public Health Center. He has been consulting with the government on the issue for eight years.

Lin said there has been little innovation in the field because the market is regulated.

“In 1977, due to the technology of the time, the only way hearing aids were safe and effective was to be programmed, fitted and professionally adjusted by a licensed provider.” he said. “But the market and its technology have changed dramatically.

“This will allow companies like Samsung, Apple and Google, who are already making innovative earbuds, to enter the market. They really couldn’t before.”

If you plan to purchase OTC hearing aids, be sure to read the return policy, says Kelly. As Kelley’s group argued, the FDA did not require companies to provide a return policy, but a return policy must be on the package.

Also check the period until you can return the item. Hearing aids are different than glasses. It can take him up to four weeks for his brain to adjust to hearing in a new way.

Test it in different situations over a few weeks to see if it works for you. Are they useful in a crowded room or are they better at work? Not one size fits all.

Couste said he would check with insurance companies to see if they would cover the cost of the OTC device. But finally, after all these years, he thinks he’ll be hearing better soon.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Custo said. “I really do.”

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