Aug 17, 2022 - Podcasts

Over-the-counter hearing aids are coming soon

The FDA announced yesterday that it’s clearing the way for a new category of hearing aids, that people with mild or moderate hearing loss can buy over the counter without an exam, fitting, or prescription. This is huge news for the millions of Americans who currently struggle to access or pay for hearing aids in America, which usually cost thousands of dollars.

  • Plus, the Afghans still left behind, one year after US withdrawal.
  • And, money to fuel Liz Cheney’s next chapter.

Guests: Axios' Tina Reed and Stef Kight.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, August 17th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering: the Afghans still left behind, one year after US withdrawal. Plus, the money to fuel Liz Cheney’s next chapter.

But first, the new FDA rule that could affect millions of Americans with hearing loss. That’s our One Big Thing.

NIALA: Hearing aids will soon be easier than ever to get. The FDA announced yesterday that it's clearing the way for a new category of hearing aids that people with mild or moderate hearing loss can buy over the counter without an exam fitting or prescription. This is huge news for millions of Americans who currently struggle to access or pay for hearing aids in this country, which can cost thousands of dollars. Axios’ Tina Reed has been covering this story. Hi, Tina.

TINA REED: Hi, Niala

NIALA: So Tina, the idea that a hearing aid could cost thousands of dollars. Actually, one of our producer's mom, she paid $6,000 for hearing aid and insurance didn't cover that. Is that typical?

TINA: Yes. So getting a hearing aid can be pretty expensive, usually between $2000 and $7,000. Um, and actually during a call with reporters, FDA commissioner, Robert Califf even commiserated with consumers saying it cost his mother-in-law $5,000 for her hearing aid. And those costs aren't covered by Medicare or private insurance.

NIALA: So I know this move was a while in the making. How will it actually make things easier and hopefully cheaper?

TINA: So this creates a completely new category for hearing aids apart from the hearing aids designed for people with serious hearing loss. And opens up innovation which are essentially these high tech devices in your ears that amplify sound, for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. It also cuts out the need to have specialized fittings or a prescription from a healthcare provider which obviously required having to go see a specialist. So there’s a number of different areas where health care costs are being cut out or where innovation could potentially bring the cost of these devices down.

NIALA: How many people do we think this could actually help?

TINA: The estimate is about 30 million Americans actually suffer from some sort of hearing loss, but then only about a fifth of those who could benefit from some sort of a hearing aid actually get that help. And it's because there's a lot of stigma. People don't wanna be seen as old or impaired. Um, there's also a lot of folks who don't see the value in it, um, because it is so expensive and they think “I'm only dealing with mild or moderate hearing loss.”

NIALA: But Tina, are there also possible other health consequences to hearing loss?

TINA: Yes. There are studies that show both cognitive and mental health impacts, resulting from, loss of hearing and that was something that officials also raised, uh, just the idea of how much isolation people who suffer from a loss of hearing can experience as a result of, of this problem.

NIALA: Are there any downsides to this?

TINA: There have been some concerns. Mostly industry groups actually are supportive of this, but they warn that they worry some people who really do need help from a specialist or from a medical professional might not get it, um, in a timely fashion. So, you know, they, they really wanted to stress having packaging that encourages consumers to seek medical advice, uh, from a trained professional. There are also guardrails that these aren't for people who are 18 and up only, they don't, this does not apply to kids and it does not apply to people with serious hearing loss because they wanted to protect consumers.

NIALA: Tina Reed is Axios's healthcare editor. Thanks Tina.

TINA: Thank you, Niala.

Money to fuel Liz Cheney’s next chapter.

NIALA: As expected, Wyoming’s Liz Cheney lost her seat in Congress to Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, in yesterday’s Republican primary, but she far outraised Hageman in donations from Texas, where her opposition to Trump and leadership on the January 6th committee have been gaining her supporters.

I asked Axios Austin reporter Asher Price to tell us about the deep Texas pockets supporting Cheney and what they could mean for her next political chapter.

ASHER PRICE: The cash is basically coming from two different pockets. First you have loyalists to George W. Bush and the Bush-Cheney administration: I’m thinking of loyalists like Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, key strategists in the Bush-Cheney White House. And then you have people who never gave money to Liz Cheney before but are supportive of the fight she’s putting up against former President Donald Trump, including prominent Republicans who have served in the Texas Republican Party. You have people like Bobby Ray Einman, who was a former National Intelligence Director. He said to me, “I was motivated to contribute this time to honor the role she’s played in investigating the Jan. 6 assault on our democracy.”

So, she’s raised not an insignificant amount, nearly a million dollars at last check just from contributors in Texas just this election cycle in her Liz Cheney for Wyoming campaign. And the reason that matters is that it lays the groundwork for future run for higher office, if she decides to run for president. This shows that fundraising abilities go far and wide and there’s some appetite to support that run.

NIALA: Asher Price is a reporter for Axios Austin.

In a moment, an update on Afghan refugees seeking asylum in the US.

The Afghans still left behind — one year after US withdrawal

NIALA: Welcome Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last August more than 81,000 Afghans have begun new lives here in the US. But tens of thousands of others who had been interpreters or worked in other roles for the US are still stuck in Afghanistan and are trying to get out. Stef Kight covers immigration for Axios. Hey Stef.

STEF KIGHT: Hi, Niala.

NIALA: Stef, can you remind us when the US left Afghanistan, what kind of assistance did they provide for Afghans who specifically helped the US military?

STEF: Right. So a year ago, and even before then, the US offered special immigrant visas for Afghans who aided the US military as interpreters or in other roles. And this is a special visa that allows them to come to the US and start new lives here as thanks for helping the US, and also to provide protections, especially given the danger they're in, after helping the us, once the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

NIALA: So where are the majority of those people now?

STEF: We don't have an exact number, but we do know that tens of thousands are still in Afghanistan, as well as their family members. And then of course, as you mentioned, there are now more than 81,000 Afghans who have started new lives here in the US.

NIALA: Stef, before the Taliban took over, there was a lot of concern from people who worked with the US military about what their personal safety would look like in Afghanistan. What has been the fate of people who have not been able to get out who did help or work with the US military?

STEF: We've heard from outside groups and refugee groups who are interacting with some of these Afghans who are still stuck in Afghanistan, despite their help for the US military. And a lot of them have had to go into hiding. They're fearful that the Taliban is gonna track them down, that they and their families are in danger. And at this point it's very difficult to leave the country.

The people who have made it to the US also are facing an uncertain future right now. There are very few pathways for people who came to the US on parole for them to stay permanently. And there's a bill that's been introduced in Congress, the Afghanistan adjustment act that would make those pathways a little bit more clear, but that is yet to pass. So we're seeing a lot of people concerned about what their future is here in the us. In addition to just all the other challenges that come with readjusting to a new country, a new culture.

NIALA: And so one refugee you spoke to for the story Zarifa Adiba, she conducted the first all-female orchestra in Afghanistan, and is now in New York. She said she wants Americans to know that Afghani refugees don't have any other choice, but to come here.

ZARIFA ADIBA: And trust me that nobody wants to leave their homeland. It is so hard emotionally and mentally to accept that, oh, I have to run away because I will die here if I stay here.

STEF: Yeah, she is actually in the US on, um, an employment visa because of her work as a conductor of an all-female orchestra in Afghanistan. And she's continuing to work on music, but her family they're here on humanitarian parole, which is only a temporary protection here in the US. And they're still trying to figure out their permanent pathway to staying, which is not very clear when it comes to humanitarian parole.

NIALA: Stef Kight is part of Axios' politics team. Thanks Stef.

STEF: Thanks Niala. .

NIALA: That’s it for us today!

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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