Hearing aids became available over the counter at dramatically lower costs today as a 2017 law finally took effect.
The new rule will make the devices, which typically require prescriptions and professional fittings, more widely available and affordable.
The move is being hailed as a major win for the nearly 38 million Americans who live with hearing loss.
The policy change is also expected to save people thousands of dollars on the notoriously pricey devices. A hearing aid can cost anywhere from $1,000-$4,000.
Americans can purchase hearing aids online from big box retailers including CVS, Walgreens, Best Buy, and Walmart at a range of prices.
Inventory will be available in stores by the end of the month. Walgreens is selling hearing aids at stores nationwide and online for $799 per pair.
Best Buy will offer nearly 20 different hearing devices online and will have them in stores by the end of the month.
And on Walmart.com, SamsClub.com, and over 1,400 stores, people will be able to buy a hearing aid for as little as $199.
Hearing aids became available over the counter at dramatically lower costs today as a 2017 law finally took effect. The new rule will make the devices, which typically require prescriptions and professional fittings, more widely available and affordable
Hearing aids typically cost thousands of dollars out of pocket. On the low end, a hearing aid will set someone back about $1,000. But under the new rule, someone with hearing loss can get a device for as little as $199.
The rule change was initiated in August by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Health and Human Services (HHS), said: ‘Reducing health care costs in America has been a priority of mine since day one.
How many Americans will benefit?
More than 37 million Americans deal with some degree of hearing loss.
Nearly 25 per cent of adults 65 to 74 and 50 per cent of those 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.
About 29 million US adults could benefit from using hearing aids.
Among adults 70 and older who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 per cent) has ever used them.
Even fewer younger adults aged 20 to 69 who would benefit from hearing aids – 16 per cent – have used them.
‘This rule is expected to help us achieve quality, affordable health care access for millions of Americans in need.’
The rule is meant to benefit people who live with mild to moderate hearing loss, which includes those who have trouble hearing in groups or on the telephone, who need to turn up the TV volume louder than others and who regularly don’t understand speech or ask others to repeat themselves,
Many more manufacturers are now expected to enter the market, breaking up the ultra-consolidated market that is 90 per cent dominated by five companies.
Walmart said it will continue to expand its offerings at a wide range of price points from about $200 to $999 per pair.
Walmart’s price point is a far cry from the usual price tag of about $2,000 per device because the associated costs of doctors’ appointments and other medical services have been eliminated.
While costs for people 18 and up who suffer from hearing loss will come down, the new rule does not amend the fact that most medical insurance plans do not cover the cost of hearing aids.
The progressive wing of Congress led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, has been pushing for hearing aid coverage in government healthcare programs for years.
About 10 million Americans 60 and older rely on hearing aids, yet traditional Medicare, the government healthcare program for seniors, does not cover the cost of the devices.
The advent of competition will also boost innovation. Tech giants such as Jabra, Sony, Apple and a slew of others are expected to adapt their audio technology for hearing aids.
Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America, hailed the move as a ‘game-changer’.
She told CNN: ‘We’ve been working for years for affordable and accessible hearing health care.’