A new executive order from President Joe Biden aims to make hearing aids more affordable by allowing them to be sold over the counter.
Biden’s order, to be signed on Friday, “directs [the Department of Health and Human Services] to consider issuing proposed rules within 120 days for allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter.”
Roughly 48 million people in the United States experience hearing loss in at least one ear, but only about 14% use hearing aids due to prohibitive costs. Hearing aids have to be prescribed by physicians but are not covered by traditional Medicare, the federal healthcare program that serves seniors. Health insurance for nonseniors also traditionally does not cover hearing aids, but coverage can be added through optional plans. The out-of-pocket costs for the devices range from about $1,000 to beyond $6,000.
“A major driver of the expense is that consumers must get them from a doctor or a specialist, even though experts agree that medical evaluation is not necessary,” according to a summary of the executive order’s contents. “Rather, this requirement serves only as red tape and a barrier to more companies selling hearing aids.”
Congress took steps toward making hearing aids available over the counter at a fraction of the cost in 2017 with the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, a bill written by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. The legislation was one of several championed by Warren, who has been fighting for private insurers as well as Medicare to include hearing aids in their coverage.
Former President Donald Trump signed the Warren-Grassley bill into law, which was designed to require the Food and Drug Administration to create and regulate a category of over-the-counter hearing aids, ensuring that they meet the same safety and quality standards that all other medical devices must meet before being made available to the public. The FDA did not meet its deadline of August 2020 to come up with a rule-making process to allow the over-the-counter devices and has still not issued a timeline for getting it done despite pressure from Warren, Grassley, and other high-profile senators.
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Original Author: Cassidy Morrison