Late last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order which has many people talking about the current state of hearing aids and the hearing care industry. 

This executive order would make over-the-counter (OTC) hearing devices available as soon as 120 days from the order’s signing.  This is not a new idea, as this was proposed in 2017 and set to take effect in 2020. However, its implementation was slowed as approval had not been given by the FDA due to COVID timeline delays.  

To put this into perspective, OTC devices are to the hearing industry what “readers” are to the eye health industry. 

A non-prescription-based option for those individuals whose issues may not yet be significant enough to warrant a prescription.  

One point made in the executive order was that hearing care is unattainable for most Americans due to cost and mentions that hearing devices always cost upwards of $5000. However, most audiology clinics have several different pricing options depending on need and budget.

Also, the actual cost of the hearing devices only encompasses a fraction of the acquisition cost of hearing healthcare.  The hearing device itself is simply the “widget,” and this must be programmed and manipulated to meet the individual’s unique needs.

No two patients’ needs are the same, even if their hearing losses are the same due to brain functioning and preference.  The professional care you receive from your hearing care professional to test, prescribe and guide you through your hearing journey is unfortunately not covered by most insurance plans.

It is an added out-of-pocket expense that you will incur, similar to your mechanic charging for labor on top of the cost for the parts required to keep your vehicle running.  

This executive order is designed to make access to hearing devices easier for all.  At Duncan Hearing Healthcare, we feel there are pros and cons to this executive order, and we will discuss those in this article.  

PROS

  • An option for those individuals who were not previously yet seeking help.  They may have begun to notice slight hearing issues but may not have been ready for traditional methods of hearing care or had been told by a hearing care professional that their hearing loss was not quite significant enough to warrant traditional hearing aids. This bridges the gap for those individuals.

CONS

  • Patients are not required to see a health professional to assess their hearing prior to fitting.  This is concerning as hearing loss can be caused by something as simple as earwax or something as complex as a space-occupying tumor in the brain.  Hearing should be assessed to rule these things out before pursuing any options.
  • These devices are designed for mild to moderate losses.  Most individuals with hearing loss have far greater hearing loss than this, and these devices will not suit their needs. 
  • These devices are self-fitting, which will be fine for some but confusing and frustrating for many who are not technologically savvy and may not have access to smartphone devices.

As you can see, there is a need for such an option to bridge the gap between those with normal hearing and those who require traditional hearing devices, and we feel the over-the-counter devices are just that.

Our primary concern is that by not mandating a hearing assessment prior to the fitting of any form of hearing device (OTC or otherwise), you run the risk of patients not getting necessary care as soon as possible, which in some cases could affect their overall health. 

If you have any questions for us, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  You can email us at nancy@duncanhearing.com or call 508-674-3334

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Nancy Duncan, Au.D.

Dr. Duncan’s Southcoast roots run deep, establishing a special connection to the community where she practices. A homegrown product, she graduated from Somerset High, just across the Taunton from Fall River, and received her B.S. in communication disorders and psychology from Worcester State College. Her master of science in audiology was awarded at the University of Arkansas in 1997, after which she worked for several private audiology practices in Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.