The mythical over-the-counter hearing aid has always seemed like a unicorn – a magical thing that everyone wants to believe exists, but no one’s ever actually seen.
As countless older adults know, regular hearing aids are extremely expensive and easily lost. Because of this, many people end up going without.
Unfortunately, poor hearing doesn’t just mean strained conversations or a higher volume on the television. It can trigger a landslide of other issues, including social isolation and hastened dementia symptoms.
Recently, however, I’ve been hearing a lot about lower cost hearing aids becoming a viable option. The U.S. is beginning to introduce OTC alternatives to the public. If they work well, they could be a boon for many people. People who, otherwise, can’t afford to take care of their hearing.
Keep reading for a recap of a recent white paper from HomeCare and learn how the dream of affordable hearing aids may soon become a reality:
Traditional Hearing Aids
Authors at HomeCare recently wrote that U.S. markets are beginning to introduce over-the-counter hearing aids to the public, and some models are already available. This fall, the FDA is set to approve and regulate additional less-expensive models.
Traditionally, acquiring a hearing aid is a lengthy process. According to one expert, “Once a person recognizes they have a hearing loss and wants to do something about it, they have to go to their doctor, and often get a referral to an ENT for a hearing test and then they are able to meet with an audiologist. Audiologists are not direct service providers as of yet, most of the time requiring a referral.”
Once all the testing is done, the patient will be advised of their hearing aid options. Typically, hearing aids range from about $3,000 to $5,000 – the more expensive, the more functionality.
Older adults, often on a tight budget, sometimes can’t afford the better models and have to settle for an inferior product. Some can’t afford the litany of doctor appointments in the first place and are left with no options at all.
OTC Hearing Aids
New over-the-counter options may make it possible for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it to get the hearing aids they desperately need.
Available in two basic tiers, OTC hearing aids will start at under $100 per ear. These will provide sounds amplification with any special bells and whistles. The mid-level product, already available, starts at around $699 and has slightly more functionality than the lowest tier. Companies who sell these have an audiologist on staff, though an exam isn’t necessarily given.
There is hope that both products will qualify as durable medical equipment and, thus, allow the patient to qualify for more reimbursements.
Some medical professionals are concerned that the OTC availability of hearing aids will lead to patients missing critical diagnosis. “There are two important exams that people might receive as part of getting a hearing aid. The first may be the exam carried out by their medical doctor or ear, nose and throat specialist,” they explain. The other is a hearing evaluation conducted by an audiologist. The physician’s exam—also known as medical clearance—is conducted to assess whether any medical conditions may be present. “It helps rule out any medical conditions that may be the underlying cause of the patient’s hearing loss.”
Without a prerequisite hearing exam, serious medical conditions could be completely overlooked.
The bottom line is this: Thousands of people, previously forced to live a life of half-heard sentiments, will now be able to effortlessly take part in conversation, listen to the radio, or catch up on the evening news. Though they’re not a perfect solution, OTC hearing aids could be a game changer for low-income seniors in the United States.