Improve access to hearing aids
Hearing loss is a problem that affects millions of people around the world, and in America about 15% of adults report hearing problems. Despite this huge number, only a smaller percentage of people with hearing loss wear hearing aids. This small percentage of people who opt for hearing aids is somewhat surprising, given the growing evidence of associations of cognitive decline and hearing loss. This blog post will review potential upcoming changes that could alter the public’s perception of hearing aids and improve people’s ability to purchase these devices.
What are the current barriers to obtaining hearing aids?
There are a variety of personal, social, and economic factors that contribute to this gap, and cost is one of the main issues many people face in getting hearing aids. A single pair of hearing aids can cost over $ 4,500, making hearing aids prohibitive for many people. In addition, most health insurance does not cover the costs of hearing aids.
It’s easy to see why people are frustrated with the lack of affordable hearing aids and the limited insurance coverage, if only part of the cost. Currently, there are no “hearing aids” approved for over-the-counter (OTC) purchase, and any over-the-counter hearing aids would not be technically approved for hearing loss. While they may be useful for some people, the lack of device regulations creates uncertainty about what products are currently available over the counter. Currently, hearing aids can only be obtained with the approval of an audiologist or doctor, so there is time and medical expense involved just to get hearing aids, in addition to the cost of the devices.
What are we doing to improve accessibility?
Fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has worked to approve over-the-counter hearing aids. This process began in 2017 when Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, which was passed by Congress. The next step in the process was for the FDA to propose over-the-counter hearing aid regulations by 2020, but this process has been delayed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, this proposal and regulatory step has the potential to have a huge impact on access to hearing aids for millions of people in need.
It should be noted that the Act relates to the approval of hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Hearing loss in this range can often go unnoticed by the individual, as the ability to hear in quiet environments is often not disturbed, but a simple clue would be if you have difficulty hearing in an environment with noise. background, or if you notice that you need to turn up the volume on your TV.
How would OTC access help people who need hearing aids?
There are a number of ways that approval of over-the-counter hearing aids would benefit the public. Primarily, OTC access would reduce the time and effort currently required to obtain hearing aids. Today, people with hearing loss need a hearing test, approval from a licensed practitioner, and evaluation to determine which hearing aid would best suit their needs before purchasing hearing aids. A single trip to the store for an over-the-counter purchase would provide an immediate opportunity to use a hearing aid in a predominantly elderly population who may be dependent on resources just to get to their medical appointments. Then, by opening up the market to expand access to hearing aids, there would be various options and incentives for companies to meet a market need and create products, which should help regulate and reduce costs. At present, there is little competition in the market, which may partly explain the high cost of these devices.
Some things to consider while waiting for FDA approval
Making hearing aids available for purchase over the counter is an extremely positive next step for hearing loss, which is a major public health concern. However, there are some things people should be aware of as we prepare for FDA approval. Most importantly, not all hearing loss requires hearing aids. There are a number of different types of hearing loss with a long list of potential causes. It is probably always a good idea to see an audiologist or an otolaryngologist (an otolaryngologist) if there are symptoms other than just hearing loss, such as pain or drainage from the ear. hearing loss in one ear. , or dizziness associated with your hearing loss. Likewise, if your hearing loss is so severe that hearing aids (OTC or otherwise) are not helpful to you, you may need more than just hearing aids.
Next, it is important to realize that there will be some variability in the products available, and part of the reason hearing aids are currently so expensive is that they have many electronic features that provide benefits. for specific types of hearing loss. So if you are unsure of the degree of your hearing loss or what type of hearing loss you have, a formal hearing test may be needed.
Finally, there are many nuances to fitting and wearing a hearing aid. With OTC purchases, you may not be able to get customizable parts, and the timeliness of a simple hearing aid repair can be difficult because it was purchased OTC.
The opportunity to improve the quality of life for millions of hearing impaired people is promising, and improving access to hearing aid technology is an important initiative that will hopefully be available soon.
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