Thanks to an Executive Order signed into law by Joe Biden you can now buy a hearing aid without a prescription at your local store, and for a fraction of the price of what they used to cost. Photo by Sharon Waldron/Unsplash.
If you are one of the 30+ million Americans who struggle to hear the TV or other people inside or outside of your home, now there’s good news for you.
Back in 2017 Congress actually passed bipartisan legislation that required the FDA to create a category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. It was signed it into law, but for some reason was never implemented.
Now, thanks to an executive order signed by President Joe Biden (in August 2022, which required a speedy 120 day deadline that was met by the FDA) people with hearing problems will be able to purchase a hearing aid either online or in their local stores. Before now, a custom fitting and a prescription from a hearing health professional was required to obtain one.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorder, only around 16% of the many millions of people with hearing loss are currently using a hearing aid, because of the costs, but it’s estimated that about 90% of people that have some type of hearing loss would benefit from an over-the-counter hearing aid.
Approximately 1 out of 8 children in the U.S. 12 years and under have hearing loss in both ears, and this number only increases with age. About 1 out of 4 people ages 65 to 74 have hearing loss, and around half of all 75 year-olds. Studies have found that people of all ages without a hearing aid report poor overall health and are less likely to leave home, or exercise.
How Much Will Over the Counter Hearing Aids Cost Now?
Until now just five companies controlled about 90% of the global hearing aid market and the average person had to pay at least $2,000 per ear, or $4,000 for both ears, of their own hard earned money for hearing aids, or they didn’t get them at all.
But beginning in October, 2022, you’ll be able to buy OTC hearing aids in your local retail and drug stores for thousands of dollars less than previous subscription devices . The White House said no-prescription hearing aids are now available or coming soon at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Best Buy and Hy-Vee, with some that costs as low as $200 a pair. Some Walmart’s are already selling OTC hearing aids, priced from $199 to $999 per pair.
Types of Hearing Aids
As companies begin to roll out their no prescription needed hearing devices out to the market there will be a variety of hearing aid styles available.
Behind the Ear Hearing Aids
These very visible devices actually tuck in behind the ear and delivers sound through a wire or tube connected to a small ear plug inserted into the ear canal. This type of hearing aid doesn’t fit into the ear too tightly so they’ll also let some other ambient sounds in, but because they’re bigger, they usually have more features and are more powerful.
Inside the Ear Hearing Aids
“Invisible” and in-the-ear-canal devices are smaller hearing aids that are not as easily noticed. These designs, placed completely inside the ear canal, are preferred by people with moderate hearing loss but they will have fewer features and less power. However, with the coming competition look for these “hidden” hearing aids to improve over time.
Rechargeable Hearing Aids
Newer, more modern rechargeable hearing devices will look more like traditional Bluetooth ear buds and are designed to be used for just a few hours at a time, depending on the situation. Like when in a crowded and loud restaurant or when watching a late night tv show without bothering your spouse. This type of hearing device is perfect for first time users and for people who don’t need to wear a hearing aid all the time.
Other lower cost models of hearing devices will include programmable settings that can be adjusted to match common hearing loss profiles, but these might not be right for you.
Before Heading to the Store get a Hearing Test.
Hearing aids are not one size fits all, and OTC hearing aids will still need to be calibrated to each person’s unique hearing needs. It’s also possible that hearing loss could be caused by a wax buildup inside the ear canal, which can easily be cleaned at home, or from another condition that might not require a hearing aid.
There are (or soon will be) many ways to get a hearing test for free or at a low cost. Some big box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco have their own hearing centers, and others like Best Buy are going to offer online hearing screenings, and you will also be able to take a hearing test on a smart phone from the hearing device manufacturer’s app. Whichever hearing test you choose, make sure it’s backed by scientific research and data.
Finally, you’ll want to test your hearing aid in different situations over a few weeks to see if it’s the right fit for you. So make sure to read the hearing device’s return policy. The FDA didn’t require hearing aid manufacturers to offer a return policy, but if there is one it should be listed on the package.
Although these new over the counter hearing aids will be available without a prescription at a fraction of the price of prescription devices, check with your insurance company to see if they will still cover any of the costs of your new OTC hearing aid.