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Monday, December 12, 2022

Hearing Aids Are Much Cheaper Now

Relaxed regulations make hearing aids much more affordable, and the devices don’t require an exam or prescription. 

Hearing loss can contribute to a host of seemingly unrelated issues, such as problems walking, falls, dementia, and depression. Yet less than a fifth of Americans with hearing loss use hearing aids, mainly due to the expense. Medicare doesn’t cover them, and prescription hearing aids can set seniors back to the tune of $1,000 to $6,000 per ear, plus the cost of getting examined and fitted by a specialist. 

That’s all changed now, thanks to new federal regulations that allow a new category of hearing aids to bypass state dispensing laws. Consumers can buy these over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids directly in stores and online. You will fit them yourself, and some models will allow you to control and adjust them yourself, too. Just like prescription hearing aids, they make sounds louder to enable adults to communicate better and participate more fully in everyday activities. 

Finding More Information  

To read more about hearing loss and the new devices, go to the following sites:

What to Know Before You Buy

To guide your purchase of an over-the-counter hearing aid, the Hearing Loss Association of America has put out a tip sheet. It includes the following list of important things to know before you buy:
  • Is there a free trial period, or money-back return policy?
  • Does it need a smartphone, app, or computer to install, operate and customize to my needs?
  • Is it compatible with cellphones or smartphones?
  • Does it have connectivity via Bluetooth or telecom to a smartphone, computer or listening system?
  • Can the hearing aid’s amplification be adjusted?
  • Is it water/sweat resistant?
  • How does it control, reduce, or block out background or wind noise?
  • How long is the battery life? Can it be recharged?

Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss

The new devices are intended only for adults with mild to moderate loss of hearing, not for children or those with more severe hearing loss. You are probably a candidate if you answer yes to at least one of the following questions:
  • Do you have trouble hearing easily in quiet, one-on-one situations?
  • Are there some difficult hearing situations where you would like to have a hearing boost, as opposed to needing it all the time?
  • Do you turn up the volume on the phone or TV to hear better at a level that is considered loud by other people?

Food and Drug Administration Approval

These new devices are clearly labeled as FDA approved to distinguish them from personal sound amplification (PSAP) devices that amplify sound (used by birdwatchers, among others) but don’t address background noise or distortion. Regulations from the FDA, which considers OTC hearing aids to be medical devices, ensure that they are safe and effective. They must not be overly loud, have required labeling outside and inside the container, and meet other requirements. Look for devices with extended return policies. You may need to try more than one brand.

Where to Get Them

Currently, the devices are available at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Best Buy, and supermarket chain Hy-Vee. Expect more companies to jump into the market soon, as consumer demand and the number of brands of devices available climb.

Walgreens is selling devices online as well as in its stores nationwide for $799 a pair. 

CVS has models available on its website that range from $199 to $999. It also offers hearing devices at select pharmacy locations.

Walmart is rolling out OTC hearing aids at stores in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas, as well as additional locations nationwide. Prices vary from $199 to $999. If you can’t find them at a nearby store, Walmart is offering them online.

Electronics retailer Best Buy is also jumping in the ring with 20 different models ranging from $200 to $3,000 at more than 300 stores across the country and online.

You can walk into a Hy-Vee in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, or Wisconsin to check out three models ranging in price from $499.99 to $999, or visit the store online.

Which Models Are Best?

As with so many consumer products, it’s impossible to gauge which is the best for the price just by reading the package. Luckily, others have already done the work for you. One good source is Wirecutter, an arm of The New York Times that focuses on reviewing retail products. Very knowledgeable folks there spent two years testing OTC devices to come up with their favorites.

Wirecutter chose Lively 2 Plus ($1,295 from Lively) and Pro ($1,695 from Lively) if you’re new to hearing aids. They offer multiple sound modes, Bluetooth capability, and an app that’s easy to use. The Pro model can handle phone calls. And they’re both rechargeable, so forget about changing batteries.

If you hate behind-the-ear aids, then a good choice is the Eargo 6 ($2,650 from Eargo). They fit inside your ear and don’t get in the way of glasses. If you’re an iOS user who prefers the look of earbuds, try the Jabra Enhance Plus ($800 from Best Buy). They’ll last 10 hours on a charge and work great for calls, too. 

Another great site for reviews comes from USA Today. You’ll find reviews of many models under $1,000, as well as some more expensive options. 

If you’re one of the millions of Americans with mild to moderate hearing loss, you can probably afford to do something about it now. You’ll have to do your homework and start researching products, but there are some great sites that make it easier than ever.