GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Many with hearing loss in Michigan are celebrating a new decision by the Food and Drug Administration to allow hearing aids to be sold over-the-counter. It’s a decision aimed to make the devices less expensive and widely available.
Starting in mid-October, people will be able to buy FDA-certified hearing aids from retailers without a prescription.
The move has been years in the making. Congress first told the FDA to come up with a plan back in 2017.
Nan Asher is the volunteer treasurer for the Michigan Coalition for Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deafblind People. She’s also a program consultant for the newborn hearing screening program for the state of Michigan.
“Hearing aids keep us connected with each other,” Asher said.
Asher has used a hearing aid since she was 4 years old.
“It’s allowed me to get an education,” she said. “I have a master’s degree. It’s allowed me to have relationships with my family.”
But hearing aids are expensive, often costing thousands of dollars.
“I just bought these hearing aids,” Asher said. “I had to save for probably four or five years in order to have the money to buy the hearing aids.”
“Hearing aids on average last three to five years,” she added. “I cannot afford to replace my hearing aids every five years. I go ten years.”
Under the new rule, people will no longer need to pay for a medical exam and get a prescription.
Gerid Adams, the president of the Grand Rapids chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, said the high costs of hearing aids have deterred many from getting help.
“Seventy percent of the people out there that could use help don’t seek help, and they should be,” Adams said. “And the biggest barrier is cost. Hearing aids are pretty expensive.”
The FDA estimates the ruling could eventually save people $2,800 on a pair of hearing aids.
“A lot of those people are not getting the help they need,” Asher added. “They’re missing bits of conversation. I think this might fill that type of gap.”
The new devices are meant to help people with mild to moderate hearing loss, but hearing aids are not strong enough for people like Adams. He has a cochlear implant instead. He urges people not to give up if the over-the-counter hearing aid doesn’t work for them.
“We have to be diligent to make sure people have a positive first-time experience,” Adams said. “If they buy something off the shelves and it doesn’t work, I don’t want them to give up. Go see an audiologist. Go see a hearing loss specialist. Maybe you have a worse loss than you think you have.”
The new ruling doesn’t apply to devices for more severe hearing loss. Those will remain prescription only.
Asher and Adams said getting help is essential.
“Somebody with untreated hearing loss that’s slowly declining, there’s a much higher risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia,” Asher said.
“If you don’t treat hearing loss, a lot of times your other health, mental and physical, could decline because you’re not being social,” Adams said.
Still, most private insurers don’t cover the cost of hearing aids, nor does Medicare. Adams hopes that changes with the FDA’s decision.
“If we get the cost down, hopefully it’ll make it easier for insurance companies and Medicaid to cover those costs,” Adams said.