Cheaper hearing aids hit stores today, available over-the-counter for the first time

Zoom / In this photo illustration, a Lexie Lumen hearing aid is on the drugstore counter at a Walgreens store on October 17 in Los Angeles. Walgreens is making Lexie Lumen hearing devices available for sale without a prescription for adults starting today after a ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowing the hearing devices to be sold without a prescription.

Today, Americans can buy the cheapest hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss without a prescription from a range of popular retailers, including Walgreens, CVS and Walmart — making vital health devices affordable and within reach of an estimated 28.8 million adults. Who can benefit from it.

The FDA estimates that the change could lower the average cost of obtaining a hearing aid by up to $3,000. As of today, Walgreens is selling a similar over-the-counter model of hearing aids that range from $2,000 to $8,000 per pair at specialty retailers for just $799 per pair on their shelves, the White House said Monday. Similarly, Walmart said that, as of today, it sells over-the-counter hearing aids ranging from $199 to $999 per pair, which is comparable to prescription hearing aids priced at $4,400 to $5,500 per pair.

This step is years in the making. In 2017, Congress passed a bipartisan proposal directing the Food and Drug Administration to establish rules for the sale of over-the-counter devices. But the rules have been slow to emerge. In July 2021, President Biden signed an executive order motivating the Food and Drug Administration to release the rules, which the agency finalized in August of this year.

“Hearing loss is a critical public health problem that affects the ability of millions of Americans to communicate effectively in their daily social interactions,” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf said in August. “The creation of this new regulatory category will allow people with mild to moderate hearing loss convenient access to a range of safe, effective and affordable hearing aids from their neighborhood store or online.”

In the past, the barriers to using headphones were high for many Americans. They needed a medical exam and for patients to get a prescription or to be supplied by an audiologist.

The Hearing Industry Association, a trade group representing hearing device manufacturers, previously worked to undermine the effectiveness of new over-the-counter devices, according to a congressional investigation. Although Hamad International Airport now says it supports the base, it is still pushing people to seek specialist care to diagnose hearing impairment and install and use devices.

“Hearing loss is unique to each person, and most don’t know if their condition is mild, moderate or greater, due to another medical problem or something as simple as earwax,” Hamad International Airport chief Kate Carr said in a statement in August. The HIA supports the final rule and recommends that the best treatment for hearing loss involves seeing an audiologist.

While independent experts note that there is nothing wrong with consulting an expert for who can, they also said consumers can navigate the situation on their own. There are also online resources to help people through this process. For example, the American Hearing Loss Association, a consumer advocacy group, offers an information sheet on who might consider using an over-the-counter hearing aid and what features to look for when buying one. Tips for the latter include looking for generous return policies, proper connectivity, adjustable amplification, water/sweat resistance, and a long-lasting or rechargeable battery.

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