Magnify / In this photo illustration, a Lexie Lumen hearing aid sits on a pharmacy counter in a Walgreens store on October 17 in Los Angeles. Walgreens makes Lexie Lumen hearing aids available for sale to adults starting today following an FDA ruling allowing over-the-counter sales of hearing aids.
Today, Americans can purchase cheaper hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss without a prescription from a range of mainstream retailers, including Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart, finally making critical health devices more affordable and accessible to the estimated 28.8 million adults who would benefit. .
The US Food and Drug Administration estimates the change could lower the average cost of getting a hearing aid by as much as $3,000. As of today, Walgreens sells an over-the-counter model similar to hearing aids that ranges from $2,000 to $8,000 per pair at specialty stores for just $799 per pair on shelves, the White House said Monday. Likewise, Walmart said it will sell over-the-counter hearing aids starting today, ranging from $199 to $999 per pair, similar to prescription hearing aids that cost $4,400 to $5,500 per pair.
The move is years in the making. In 2017, Congress passed a bipartisan bill instructing the FDA to establish rules for the sale of over-the-counter devices. But the rules were slow to get going. In July 2021, President Biden signed an executive order urging the FDA to draft the rules, which the agency completed in August this year.
“Hearing loss is a critical public health problem that affects the ability of millions of Americans to communicate effectively in their daily social interactions,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in August. “By introducing this new regulatory category, people with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss can easily access a range of safe, effective and affordable hearing aids at their convenience store or online.”
In the past, barriers to hearing aids were high for many Americans. They required a medical exam and for patients to get a prescription or be placed by an audiologist.
The Hearing Industries Association, a trade group that represents hearing aid manufacturers, previously worked to undermine the effectiveness of new over-the-counter devices, according to a Congressional investigation. Although HIA now says it supports the rule, it still urges people to seek special care for diagnosing hearing problems and fitting and using devices.
“Hearing loss is unique to each person, and most don’t know whether their condition is mild, moderate, or greater, caused by another medical problem or something as simple as earwax,” HIA president Kate Carr said in an August statement. “HIA supports the last line and recommends that the best treatment for hearing loss is to see a hearing care professional.”
While independent experts noted there’s nothing wrong with consulting an expert for those who can, they also said consumers can navigate the situation on their own. There are also resources online to help people through the process. For example, the Hearing Loss Association of America, a consumer advocacy group, provides a tip sheet on who should consider an over-the-counter hearing aid and what features to look for when buying it. Tips for the latter include looking for a generous return policy, convenient connectivity, adjustable gain, water/sweat resistance, and a long-lasting or rechargeable battery.