Crony capitalism or snake oil? Senator Warren’s Hearing Aid Gambit

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It must be hard being Elizabeth Warren, with her long history of chess. She tried to be a Native American, and she failed. She tried to become president, and she failed. She tried – along with the rest of the Democratic Communist Party to build back better – and she failed.

Now she tried to be a capitalist girlfriend, and failed at that too.

That’s how things are after Bose laid off 2,000 employees at its Massachusetts headquarters, as the Boston Globe recently reported. Most famous for home audio systems and headphones, Bose has struggled in recent years to pioneer retail hearing aids, but without success.

Bose’s contraction is not due to a lack of effort on Warren’s part.

In 2017, she won a victory over the over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids law; its goal was to open the door for mainstream retail stores to sell hearing aids directly to the consumer. This has allowed people to bypass trained healthcare professionals and take control of their hearing! therefore, to say.

Much like the herbal supplement industry before them, over-the-counter hearing aid companies have flooded the market to take advantage of the unregulated space. About 44 million Americans suffer from some form of hearing loss, often due to advanced age, and many want better access to necessary medical equipment.

In theory, bypassing expensive bureaucracy to get more and cheaper options is a good thing. But not if it ends up doing more harm than good.

Bose SoundControl was the first FDA-approved self-adjusting hearing aid designed to treat mild to moderate hearing loss. As the company billed, the device allowed users to fit it themselves, program it, and ultimately achieve “clinically proven, audiologist-grade results — without a doctor’s visit, hearing test or prescription”.

Warren and his allies insisted that moving to an OTC model would spur innovation, cost savings and patient access, which is normally the kind of strategy conservatives agree with.

Then the problems arose.

Without proper FDA safeguards, problems multiplied, hurting those who needed help. Companies that sold OTC hearing aids ran into trouble with the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Hearing industry professionals have strongly denounced OTCs as dangerous.

As terms such as “snake oil” were thrown around, attorney generals in state after state (after state after state) filed lawsuits against hearing aid companies OTC and have won.

Warren recently attempted to pull off a little regulatory sleight of hand on behalf of the industry, asking the Biden administration to issue an executive order last fall directing the FDA to expedite the regulatory process for hearing aids by free sale. The goal seemed to be to give the industry the illusion of federal government validation, without any substantial safeguards.

The FDA’s proposed guidelines would have allowed an OTC hearing aid to amplify sounds up to 120 decibels (dB) with no gain limit. It’s somewhere between a jet taking off from an aircraft carrier and Metallica in 1991, according to Purdue University.

Healthcare costs are out of control and everyone wants cheaper solutions. Innovation found only in the private sector is likely to come up with better solutions than Washington, but the federal government has an appropriate role to play.

If there had been better guidelines, those 2,000 Bay Staters working for Bose might not have lost their jobs.

Snake oil salesmen have long been a fixture of the American West, as has Warren’s “Indian ancestry.” For a matter of historical curiosity, the court decision that condemned snake oil being used as medicine was in Rhode Island – involving snake oil made across the border in Massachusetts!

So, Warren’s history of failure here seems to be a long tradition.

Jared Whitley is a longtime politician who has worked in the US Congress, the White House and in the defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won the Utah Society of Professional Journalists’ Top State Blogger Award (2018) and Best of the West’s Top Columnist (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. Read Jared Whitley’s reports – More here.

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