Aug 17, 2022 - Health

Who wins — or loses — with over-the-counter hearing aids

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

People with hearing loss could soon buy hearing aids without needing to have an exam, prescription or special fitting first.

Driving the news: In a move years in the making, the FDA on Tuesday issued a final rule allowing over-the-counter sales of hearing aids to adults with mild or moderate hearing loss. Kids and those with serious hearing loss will still need a prescription.

  • They could become available as soon as October when the rule takes effect.

Who wins with this rule?

  • Patients with hearing loss: This change officially creates a new category of hearing aid that's expected to reach a far broader audience who may have previously avoided hearing aids due to cost and stigma. It's also expected to shake up prices and spur innovation across the market.
  • Consumer electronics manufacturers: This will allow more companies to move into a space now dominated by specialty companies like ReSound, Sonova and William Demant, wrote Cowen analyst Eric Assaraf.
  • Biden and the Dems: We're not trying to be cynical. But along with the health care wins in the Inflation Reduction Act, the timing of this — five years after Congress gave its blessing to the idea and less than 90 days before the midterms — just so happens to work out great for vulnerable Democrats.

Who loses?

  • Manufacturers/hearing care: As Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said, this would "lower prices" for consumers and result in "more competition" — which could hurt the bottom line of incumbents. Early estimates say consumers who purchase hearing aids in this category could save $2,800 per pair.
  • Patients with hearing loss: Industry groups, like the Hearing Industries Association, have backed this move with a caveat, arguing consumers who skip seeing a doctor for hearing trouble may not get timely diagnosis and treatment for more serious problems.

Listen in: Axios Today podcast host Niala Boodhoo and Axios' Tina Reed discuss OTC hearing aids.

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