Over-the-counter hearing aids bring savings and convenience
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Starting Monday, you can buy hearing aids over the counter for the first time. They’re in stores and online at places like Walmart, CVS, even Best Buy. No appointments or prescriptions necessary. They’re also cheaper than the custom-made ones.
Until Monday, getting a hearing aid required seeing a doctor or an audiologist and getting a prescription.
“It’s multiple visits and it’s several thousand dollars,” said Dr. Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The fact that anyone who’s over 18 can now skip that long process and just walk into a store or go online to buy a hearing aid is a big deal, according to Lin.
“I mean, this fundamentally is a huge game changer,” he said.
You can now buy a hearing aid for $500 or $800 instead of a few thousand dollars.
And, Lin said he expects prices will come down even more in the next few years as new companies start making them.
“What I think many people fully expect is these over-the-counter hearing aids over time would drop to the same price as a good quality wireless earbuds that we typically get anywhere from $100 to $200, $300 at the most,” he said.
More than 40 million people in the U.S. have some form of hearing loss, and right now, Lin said, only about 20% of them use hearing aids.
“We’re hoping that because these hearing aids will now be in mainstream stores, that people will start paying attention to hearing health,” said Barbara Kelley with the Hearing Loss Association of America.
“I don’t think as of today that we’re gonna see the mad rush,” she said.
But she said she hopes over time as people see them in stores and see the price come down, more will try them.
Meaghan Reed, the director of clinical audiology at Mass Eye and Ear, said the changes that went into effect Monday are important, but more needs to happen to make hearing aids truly accessible to everyone who needs them.
“I don’t think over-the-counter hearing aids are a one-stop solution to the problem,” she said. “It’s a first step.”
The next step, she said, would be getting insurance — including Medicare — to cover them.
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