Breaking a Logjam on Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

photo of Katherine Bouton

Katherine Bouton is a longtime former editor at the New York Times, including 10 years as Deputy Editor at The New York Times Magazine. She continues to write for many sections of the Times, and is a weekly blogger at AARP Health. She is the author of the critically acclaimed ”Shouting Won’t Help” and “Living Better With Hearing Loss. Katherine developed idiopathic progressive hearing loss at age 30 and today wears a cochlear implant and a hearing aid. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Katherine is married to the writer Daniel Menaker and they have two grown children.

Bloomberg News, y Katherine Bouton

In the uncertainty over the future of U.S. health care, there is one ray of hope for a group of people who need more options, not fewer.

People with hearing loss usually pay out of pocket for hearing aids, and those pockets must be deep indeed. The average cost for a hearing aid is $2,300, and most people need two. They don’t last forever, and if your condition is progressive you may need to replace them as often as every four or five years.

No matter what your income level, hearing aids for adults are not covered by health insurance. They are not covered by Medicare, and they are not covered by state Medicaid programs. The Affordable Care Act does not cover hearing aids. Some private insurers are beginning to pay, but it’s usually only a fraction of the whole. The V.A. and some state vocational bureaus do provide hearing aids. But essentially, you’re on your own.

The good news comes in the form of a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate by Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa and Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Their Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2016, introduced on Dec. 1, would make certain basic hearing aids available over the counter and at a far cheaper price than what a decent hearing aid costs today. Whether these devices would be called “hearing aids” under Food and Drug Administration regulations remains to be seen, but they will be hearing-aid-like devices made by hearing-aid manufacturers.

These devices are not for people like me with severe to profound loss. But they are what the more than 30 million Americans with age-related hearing loss could use, at least as starter devices.  [Full story]

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