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FDA: Goal is to improve hearing aid access for the uninsured



CHARLOTTE, NC Local Charlotte News – The FDA says 37 million Americans, or 15% of adults, have trouble hearing. Soon, it’ll be a lot easier for them to get help.

The agency released a set of guidelines Tuesday that would allow retailers to sell hearing aids over the counter. On one hand, experts feel allowing anyone to buy hearing aids will improve access for those without insurance and likely decrease the cost. But they’re also concerned the easier access may encourage people to forgo seeing a hearing professional.

“Hearing loss is really something that has an impact on people in such a critical way. For someone to be able to get access to it at an early stage, that’s wonderful,” said CEO of Beltone Carolina Michael Andreozzi.

President Trump signed the FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017, which included the over-the-counter hearing aids specifically targeted towards individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss. Hearing aids historically have only been accessible through licensed professionals.

“The OTC hearing aid is going to be something that is an easy step for someone going into that hearing realm, and kind of see if that is something that will work for them,” said Audiologist Julie Palazzolo.

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Palazzolo and many of her colleagues at the Charlotte Speech and Hearing Center feel that the new hearing aid access is positive in terms of access, but should never replace seeing a medical professional. However, over-the-counter devices are expected to be cheaper than professional-prescribed hearing aids. That would help those without insurance or whose insurance doesn’t cover the cost of hearing aids.

“I will be honest. Hearing aids are ridiculously expensive,” said Charlotte Speech and Hearing Executive Director Shannon Tucker.

But sometimes decreasing costs comes with costs of its own. Hearing experts say there’s more to the tiny devices than meets the eye. Each device involves fitting, calibrating, testing, and verifying. Taking a professional out of the mix would leave the user to complete these steps all on their own.

“When you come in and you’re seeking hearing and healthcare services, it’s not just about the product that you’re buying. It’s buying the product plus you’re also getting the services and the expertise,” said Palazzolo.

Palazzolo compares the OTC hearing aids to reading glasses. They may be helpful for people with minor impairment, but eventually, they’ll likely require more intervention. That’s why some medical experts feel the OTC hearing aids may be a fine starting point for someone with early-stage hearing loss, but by no means a replacement for those with complex hearing issues.

The FDA is currently in their 90-day comment period for people to give their input on their regulations before finalizing them.

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