In August, President Trump signed The Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aid Act of 2017 in to law as part of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Reauthorization Act of 2017. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) a cosponsor of the bill, said, “By passing this legislation and making some hearing aids available over the counter, we will increase competition, spur innovation, and bring down prices.”
James C. Denneny III, MD, executive vice president and CEO of the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO–HNS), agreed. “OTC access has a high likelihood of affecting pricing,” he said. “Pricing will be more transparent, and it is anticipated that competition within the market will lower the cost of hearing aids, particularly ‘entry-level’ hearing aids appropriate for mild-to-moderate sensorineural hearing loss.”
Cutting the cost of hearing aids to make them more accessible is the clear benefit of this new law. How this will affect otolaryngologists and audiologists is, of course, still largely unknown as details of the law are not yet final. However, Dr. Denneny and others here weigh in on the effects this new law may have on clinical practice.
Accessibility and Affordability
One primary benefit of OTC hearing aids, according to Dr. Denneny, is the expectation that easier accessibility to the devices will lower some of the barriers for patients who need care for hearing loss. “The biggest benefit of this legislation will likely be the increased participation of patients who previously had chosen not to access the system and will now have their hearing evaluated,” he said. “A likely result of this will be the identification of hearing loss at an earlier stage and initiating treatment for many who would not otherwise do so.”
Lauren Mann, an audiologist and clinical coordinator for audiology at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, said that identifying more patients with hearing loss may allow for earlier detection of underlying medical conditions. In addition, she said that wider identification of patients with hearing loss will benefit research and promote further understanding of the effects of hearing loss, such as cognitive decline. “I think there’s still so much we don’t know and could start to learn with the onslaught of patients seeking amplification sooner through OTC options,” she added.
Bruce J. Gantz, MD, professor and head of the department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, agreed, but with a slight caveat. While he said that the availability of OTC hearing aids may lead to increases in identifying people with hearing loss, he also suggested that part of this increased identification may come from people who buy the OTC devices and eventually visit an otolaryngologist or audiologist because they are unhappy with them.