A group of Senators, led by Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have introduced legislation to make hearing aids more accessible and affordable for those who need it.
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 would require the Food and Drug Administration to create a set of standards for over-the-counter hearing aids that would allow providers to create affordable devices designed to serve those suffering from mild to moderate hearing loss.
“Imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t hear well enough to carry on a meaningful conversation with someone, or talk on the phone. It’s devastating and is related to social isolation, depression and even dementia,” Senator Warren wrote in a Facebook post.
About 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication, including 26.7 million people over the age of 50. Despite the prevalence of the problem, only 14 percent of people suffering from a hearing impairment use a hearing aid, according to research from Johns Hopkins University.
One of the biggest factors causing that disparity is affordability. Hearing aids typically cost around $2,300, according to a 2015 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology—and that’s for one ear. Most people require two, making the upstart cost in excess of $4,500.
There are several reasons for the sky-high costs of hearing aids, including the fact the market is dominated by a small number of companies. Ninety percent of the hearing aid market is controlled by six manufacturers, leaving consumers will little choice—especially if their hearing aid provider only offers one or two of those manufacturers.
It’s also worth noting a significant portion of the cost associated with hearing aids isn’t from the device itself, but from the service provided to fit and tune the aid. Dave Fabry, an audiological consultant, told…