A hearing aid for everyone

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My colleagues and I write a lot about government failures and the horrors of technology. But this week we have some good news.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration kicked off the process – after a long wait – to create a new class of government-approved hearing aids that Americans will be able to purchase without a prescription. Congress approved over-the-counter hearing aids in 2017.

These over-the-counter hearing aids have the potential to prove that the best efforts of government and tech companies can improve the lives of Americans.

You can buy reading glasses from Walgreens without a prescription. Maybe by next year you’ll be able to do the same with an officially labeled hearing aid at a cost of a few hundred dollars.

Healthcare professionals, patient advocates and technical managers I have spoken with are excited about the potential of over-the-counter hearing aids. They imagine that the government’s blessing will spark new inventions from companies like Bose, Best Buy, and Apple. And they think it could be the start of a golden age for the hearing aid.

“I’m crying reading this” Nicolas reed, the director of audiology at the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, said he wrote to his contacts on Tuesday after hearing the news.

When I wrote on this topic in April, I was surprised at the pernicious and pervasive effects of hearing loss. About 38 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss, and only a minority of people who can benefit from hearing aids use them.

Prescription hearing aids work well for many Americans, if they have access to medical care and can afford to pay an average of around $ 5,000. (Hearing aids are usually not covered by traditional health insurance. Coverage by private health insurance and Medicaid plans is spotty.) Some people also feel embarrassed about losing their hearing or are put off by hearing aid tests and adjustments.

Untreated hearing loss can be serious. Struggling to understand what we hear stresses the brain and is associated with cognitive decline, dementia and social isolation.

Research by Dr Reed and other academics has found that some over-the-counter hearing aids on the market for $ 350 or less – they cannot legally be called a hearing aid at present – were almost as good as prescription hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. But hearing aids in this category can be great or unnecessary, and it was hard to tell the difference.

The best listening devices could be approved as official over-the-counter hearing aids under new FDA rules. Experts say more and more companies are waiting behind the scenes to come up with new hearing products.

Bose announced in May a hearing aid for $ 850, and the company told me they wanted to sell the product as an over-the-counter hearing aid when the FDA finalized its rules. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple is exploring ways to turn its AirPods, which are wireless headphones, into a device to improve hearing.

More gadgets don’t necessarily mean more people will be helped by them. But the new market opportunity created by the government may open the door to ideas we cannot yet imagine, radical changes in public awareness of hearing loss and the choices for treating it.

Dr Reed tells me he envisions that sleeker, easier-to-use hearing aids can help erode the stigma of hearing loss and that newer device makers will provide more education to consumers about the problem.

He and other experts are also imagining more avenues for hearing assistance besides devices. Maybe there will be the equivalent of Best Buy’s Geek Squad to help people fit hearing aids they buy without a prescription. If many more people are looking for a hearing aid, it could also mean more opportunities for healthcare professionals who could offer hearing tests and treatments, independent of the devices.

People with more severe hearing loss may not be helped by an over-the-counter hearing aid. And even at a fraction of the cost of traditional hearing aids, many people still won’t be able to afford them. Some drafts of the current national policy plan around Congress propose an extension of Medicare coverage to include hearing aids.

Healthcare in the United States is more expensive than in many wealthy countries and produces worse health outcomes. But at least in this area of ​​health care, people could soon benefit from more innovation and lower costs. Not bad.


  • Facebook will change its name. OK. The edge reports that Facebook plans to reveal a new name for the company next week to incorporate its interest in the “metaverse,” a term denoting a broad view that virtual human interactions will be as complex as reality.

  • Going from Hollywood tabloid to conspiracy theories: BuzzFeed News has tracked the evolution of Crazy Days and Nights from a celebrity gossip blog to a hub for QAnon conspiracy theories. “Gossip fans and QAnoners share a fundamental belief: that behind closed doors, celebrities do unspeakable things,” BuzzFeed writing.

  • Talk to the world through your phone: My colleague JD Biersdorfer has advice on how to use your smartphone to converse in a language you don’t know or to quickly translate a message or road sign.

I love Gritty, the eccentric mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. here is Gritty playing with VERY HORNY dog friend.


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