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Elizabeth Warren’s Hearing Aid Cronyism

With a committee vote pending on the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 [1], critics of the legislation warn the bill would increase government regulations and raise the cost of personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). 

A gun-owner group warned in a letter [2] on Tuesday that language in the act could even tread into Second Amendment rights.

The legislation, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), would create a new category of hearing aids that would be available over the counter. They’re expected to be cheaper than current hearing aids. This sounds good on its face, but the concerns about the act are two-fold: it’s likely to draw people away from proper screenings with health professionals, resulting in poorer health outcomes, and it would create more regulations for PSAPs while preempting state laws.

All devices now sold as hearing aids in the United States are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and require a doctor’s prescription. Just a few companies sell them and they often cost thousands of dollars, uncovered by insurance. The barrier to entry for consumers led to the growth of PSAPs, which can’t be marketed as hearing aids but are often just as effective for those who don’t suffer severe hearing loss.

Warren’s act tasks the Department of Health and Human Services secretary with redefining PSAPs, likely shifting many of them into the newly created and more heavily regulated over-the-counter hearing aid category.

A letter [3] from a coalition of free-market oriented groups to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which signed off on the legislation last week, called the act “a solution in search of a problem that does not exist.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to take up the issue Thursday. “It is unfortunate that government regulators and big, rent-seeking corporations are the real beneficiaries of the bill. Consumers are the losers,” the coalition wrote.

Springfield, Virginia-based Gun Owners of America sent a letter to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, warning the act could impact a variety of PSAPs that are marketed as hunting aids and intended to help hunters detect the presence of game.

“There’s a pretty good chance that these hunting devices would fall within Warren’s definition of ‘over-the-counter hearing aid,’” wrote Erich Pratt, executive director of the group, “which would mean that a new federal bureaucracy would be in charge of regulating hunting. Were Warren less of an enemy of the Second Amendment, we might give more credibility to the argument that we were protected by the ‘perceived … hearing impairment’ language of the Warren bill. But she isn’t. So we don’t.”

The group asked the committee to remove the language from the bill or put the legislation on hold.

Previously, the free-market coalition said some of the larger companies that produce PSAPs believe they could make more money by selling them as a product on a level with hearing aids, marketing them as such and raising prices. The coalition noted that speaker-maker Bose sells a high-end PSAP called HearPhones, which retails for $500, and is headquartered in Warren’s home state of Massachusetts.

Reason pointed out last week [4] that Bose has spent about $50,000 to lobby for Warren’s act this year, and an additional $100,000 lobbying on “issues related to the FDA” in 2016.

Noah Kraft, CEO and co-founder of Doppler Labs, told TechCrunch [5] his company was working with members of Congress on the legislation. Doppler Labs also makes a high-end PSAP called Here One, which costs $300. The company admitted the legislation would help open up new markets for it.

But even taking the non-cynical view that PSAP manufacturers simply seek the new regulations to put their products on a level playing field with traditional hearing aids creates another concern—taking doctors out of the auditory health equation. Opponents of the bill warn that would leave patients uninformed and undertreated.

The AARP cited a study [6] that found that hearing aids and current over-the-counter options were equally effective for those with mild-to moderate-hearing loss. The biggest difference in user satisfaction was the help of a trained audiologist, who would assist with a proper fitting. But the new legislation would push more people away from, rather than toward, using audiologists.

Many experts within the hearing industry warn that the creation of a category of over-the-counter hearing aids could lead to poorer health outcomes. They warn that consumers who pass on a hearing assessment from an expert could run the risk of not discovering underlying medical conditions.

The Hearing Industries Association released a report [7] on the issue stating that “failure to adequately address hearing loss can have profound negative consequences including an increase in dementia risk.”

Even groups that support the measure, such as the Hearing Loss Association of America, hint at the drawbacks of the regulation by warning people not to forgo doctor visits. “Access to technology or hearing aids by consumers is not a substitute for following good health care practices,” the HLAA said in a press release. [8]

Hearing Tracker conducted a survey on the issue and found that nearly 87 percent of audiologists or hearing instrument specialists oppose the concept. One wrote: “I have seen patients come into my clinic with hearing tests provided by retailers at ‘big box stores’ who should have referred for ENT management and did not. These patients were misdiagnosed (hearing loss was exaggerated to make them hearing aid candidates) and red-flags for medical management were ignored. In one case, patient had a tumor on his auditory nerve. Had these patients not come into my clinic for a second opinion, this dangerous management of their care could have escalated into serious health problems.”

The language of the bill also explicitly removes states’ authority to enforce their own laws regulating over-the-counter hearing aids, although the current approach to auditory health varies state-by-state. Some states allow audiologists to dispense hearing aids, while others do not. Some have continuing education requirements for audiologists.

The coalition argues the act would “empower federal bureaucrats.”

“A new layer of regulation is not a stimulator of innovation – it squashes innovation,” they wrote.

Johnny Kampis is investigative reporter for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation. Kampis formerly served a similar role at Watchdog.org. Over the course of his nearly 20 years in journalism, he has been published in such outlets as the New York Times, Time, Fox News and The Daily Caller.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Elizabeth Warren’s Hearing Aid Cronyism"

#1 Comment By Rod Willmot On May 18, 2017 @ 12:26 am

This is baroque. The lady wants to make it easier for people to obtain a badly needed type of device that is otherwise excessively pricey. Oh, oh, they might not get the benefit of expensive doctors telling them to buy something more expensive. How horrible! And there might be regulations, OMG! And the regulations might (somehow, baroquely) tread on the infinite egoes of gun-fanatics! How evil, how corrupt!

#2 Comment By Andrew On May 18, 2017 @ 8:30 am

For crying out loud…a company developed a less expensive, more efficient product, and all they’re asking for is permission to sell it. That’s capitalism! Alright, there is an extra layer of bureaucracy that we invented to keep crooks from practicing medicine. But that’s necessary. I’m an engineer, and I have to get a license from the state that certifies I actually know what I’m doing.

Is it a worse product than what’s currently available? Probably. But that’s also capitalism. If you can afford a Ferrari, get a Ferrari. But don’t make regulations preventing the sale of Honda Civics just because they’re inferior!

Until Congress can figure out how to lower healthcare prices, we’ll need innovations like this. And the ACA is irrelevant. The AHCA would take us back to pre-ACA days, when costs were still too damn high. We need a thorough overhaul, perhaps implementing a true market-based system, without any of this employer-middleman nonsense.

#3 Comment By collin On May 18, 2017 @ 9:09 am

To be honest, I don’t quite get your point here as conservatives should look for supply side solutions to health care and this is the definition of supply side solution. Just because it is Democrat pursuing the bill does not make it bad. It is easier to buy OTC hearing aids for consumers and they can do their own research here. (Heck they probably do testing on the internet.) Also, the hearing aids will likely be 10 – 20% cheaper without the prescription review at the store. That said OTR does nothing to stop people from going to the doctor and I bet most people will take that route.

In reality, you sound like you are protecting Cronyism of doctors and pharmacist. (In reality most would probably agree the OTR here.)

#4 Comment By Chris G On May 18, 2017 @ 10:00 am

This article is downright insulting. A brief summary:

“Critics of the legislation warn the bill would increase government regulations and raise the cost of personal sound amplification products (PSAPs).”

You simply can’t write that and follow it shortly thereafter with:

“The legislation, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), would create a new category of hearing aids that would be available over the counter. They’re expected to be cheaper than current hearing aids.”

Is the author seriously trying to sell the idea that opening up the hearing aid market by allowing over-the-counter purchases represents an INCREASE in government regulation? That the concerns raised by the audiologist and hunting groups are anything other than naked attempts at protectionism of their industries by continuing the current regulations limiting market access? I can actually hear the author’s vertebrae and tendons cracking as he makes herculean stretches in logic.

Particularly galling is the insinuation that allowing MORE access and competition in the any market “squashes innovation”. This is antithetical to free market principles and conservative economic ideals.

This author has shown absolutely no respect for his audience’s intelligence and the publication of this piece on this usually excellent website is baffling. If anything, this reads like an endorsement for Elizabeth Warren. The only cronyism I can detect here is the author’s slavish devotion to the gun and audiologist interest groups.

#5 Comment By Paul On May 18, 2017 @ 10:57 am

“Cronyism” seems a mighty strong word for what’s described.

#6 Comment By Argon On May 18, 2017 @ 11:29 am

Sorry. Not seeing the huge downside to this.

Sounds like the current hearing aid companies want to maintain high prices and distribute earnings with medical doctors through regulated access. This is more about protectionism than worrying about squashing innovation.

#7 Comment By Kevin On May 18, 2017 @ 1:52 pm

Last week we had a think tanker reporting that regulations that force people to undergo eye exams were cronyism. Now, we have a think tanker reporting that legislation loosening regulation on hearing aids is cronyism. Seriously: TAC should really be transparent and explain why in the last few months, its started running these think tank cut and paste pieces, after never doing so before.

#8 Comment By Barbara Kelley On May 18, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

The Hearing Loss Association of America supports the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017. We represent consumers and have NO financial interest in its passage. The number one question we get in our office is, “How can I get help to afford hearing aids?” 85% of people who could benefit do not use them due to cost, stigma and access. We are talking about people who won’t even go to a dr or audiologist but if they have a chance to get help, they probably will end up at one. The technology is there, innovation and competition must happen.

#9 Comment By JWJ On May 18, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

Chris G wrote:
“Is the author seriously trying to sell the idea that opening up the hearing aid market by allowing over-the-counter purchases represents an INCREASE in government regulation?”

This is what I got from the article.

Currently PSAPs are less regulated than the current category of hearing aids. Hearing aids are regulated by the FDA. PSAPs are NOT
PSAPs cost in the hundreds of dollars (let’s use an example of $300). Hearing aids cost in the thousands of dollars (let’s use an example of $2,000).

So increasing regulation on PSAPs would raise the price of those to let’s say $800. And the hearing aid could still drop in price to $1500 if sold by a big box retailer.

Now does the math make sense?

#10 Comment By Janice Schacter Lintz On May 18, 2017 @ 4:17 pm

It is preposterous to think the Warren/Grassley bill is cronyism and for anyone to say this, must not be hearing well themselves…

Most people with hearing loss cannot afford hearing aids which cost upwards of $8,000/pair. Most people need two so discussing the price per aid underestimates the cost significantly. What about the back-up pair? Is a person with hearing loss not supposed to go to work if an aid(s) stops working? So, the out-of-pocket cost is really $16,000 and not $2,500.

While 30% of adults over age 65 have some form of hearing loss, the vast majority or 70% are under 65. So discussing hearing loss as an older adult issue, discounts the vast majority of the market who have hearing loss. It is time to change the perception who hearing loss impacts. ( [9]) One in five teens has some form of hearing loss which is frightening.

While the PCAST and NASEM recommendations are great, they do not go far enough. ( [10]) In fact, PCAST was tasked with only looking at the older adult market so they could not address the vast majority of the market. This was made clear in PCAST’s opening statement before the FDA after I complained that they over looked the younger market which included my daughter.

Upon information and belief, there was only one person on the PCAST committee with hearing loss and the vast majority of the committee were unfamiliar with the issues. In fact, my testimony before the FDA ( [11]) detailed issues that former FDA Commissioners told me they were unaware existed. During an interview for my article in Huff Post ( [12]), one committee member didn’t even realize that it wasn’t feasible for hearing aids to have prescriptions and that audiograms were already portable. PCAST and NASEM should have had people appointed to the committee who were familiar with hearing aids and hearing loss. Being brilliant in their respective fields is great but it doesn’t make a person knowledgeable about hearing aids.

Even if hearing aids are sold OTC, it will not solve one of the biggest issues with hearing aids; consumers have no idea what they are purchasing. There is no transparency or rating system. The FDA needs to require hearing aids to have generic names for features and international ANSI standards should be used to rate them. Having the same person prescribe and sell hearing aids is self-serving and a conflict of interest that defies common sense. We should be looking at the end user and now worrying about the pockets of the people who benefit from the sales of aids or the people/industry who is more interested in preserving their careers at the expense of the actual hearing aid user.

Non-profits devoted to hearing loss accept donations or paid advertising from hearing aid manufactures affects an organization’s advocacy and opinion. Relying on these organizations then becomes self-serving as well. So, of course these organizations are not taking a strong stand to support this bill.

It is deeply concerning when the head of advocacy screamed at me at the FDA hearing that she was “too busy” to ensure that hearing aids were covered under EHB…To me, this should have been the most important aspect of her job. When board members appoint repeated Executive Directors with no background or connection to hearing loss, you have to wonder why? I was told by a Senator, that hearing aids were taken out on the Senate side because no one lobbied for them…According to the Senator, I was THE only person on The Hill who at the time was represented pro-bono by Akin Gump. This is definition of insanity. ( [13]) I receive no money nor any benefit from any hearing aid manufacturer. I am a mother of a child with hearing loss who needs to hear…

The FDA needs to open up a market controlled by six companies and ensure that people know what they are purchasing by mandating features use generic names that can be tested by an organization such as Consumer Reports with international ANSI standards. We also need to ensure that advocacy organizations are focusing on the end user and not the companies who donate or advertise in their publications. Hearing aids should not be the new status symbol of the rich…

#11 Comment By Will Harrington On May 18, 2017 @ 5:30 pm

This article is downright insulting. A brief summary:

“Critics of the legislation warn the bill would increase government regulations and raise the cost of personal sound amplification products (PSAPs).”

You simply can’t write that and follow it shortly thereafter with:

“The legislation, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), would create a new category of hearing aids that would be available over the counter. They’re expected to be cheaper than current hearing aids.”

What you are missing is that there are already inexpensive products that are sold over the counter. The argument is that we are about to see these devices, which are not categorized as hearing aids, get categorized as hearing aids which will then become more expensive, if they are allowed to be sold. Strange that no one in the com boxes clued in on this, the central objection. So, the real issue is, should congress be classifying stuff that is not being marketed as medical devices as medical devices? Do we really need another law? Some commenters have said they don’t see a downside (I have pointed out what I think they missed) but a more crucial question now becomes do we pass laws only because it has no downside? No wonder we have too many laws. More crucially, should we tolerate congress passing laws that create winners and losers based on who spends the most lobbying? Corruption doesn’t stop being corruption just because those who benefit from it can also make it legal.

#12 Comment By Hyperion On May 18, 2017 @ 5:39 pm

re: Just because it is Democrat pursuing the bill does not make it bad.

collin, I guess you didn’t get the memo. ;=)

Kampis, when you have to shell out about $4K for a device that doesn’t really solve your problems AND you go to an audiologist to get the device “fitted” AND it still doesn’t really address your hearing difficulties, buying something that works almost as well for < $500 that needs no adjustment sounds pretty good.

Why do you have a(n ideological) problem with that?

#13 Comment By Whine Merchant On May 18, 2017 @ 8:19 pm

Because Eliz Warren is a consumer champion [often via regulations], she is a cross-hair marked enemy of alleged free marketeers and must be opposed. The pseudo-logic in this hack piece is as deranged as any SJW screed from the alt-left.

Thank you –

#14 Comment By Keith Kelly On May 18, 2017 @ 8:28 pm

Warren Derangement Syndrome

#15 Comment By EricS On May 19, 2017 @ 1:05 am

Just because the bill comes from a Democrat doesn’t make it a bad idea.

Obviously the details of the bill are important, and need to be examined, but this is long overdue. Hearing aid costs will plummet just like all mass produced electronics. I suspect we’ll see smartphone apps to configure the frequency response just like an audio equalizer.

Look at eyeglass costs. Custom glasses cost between $100 and $500 when you include the doctor’s appointment, while simple reading glasses cost $3 at Target. For some people the $3 solution is the right one.

#16 Comment By andy On May 19, 2017 @ 1:26 am

“Free market group” in this case is a cynical synonym for “Industry lobbyists in seek of relative monopoly.”

#17 Comment By nm On May 19, 2017 @ 7:09 am

when did Amconmag start publishing lobbyist memos as articles?

#18 Comment By Argon On May 19, 2017 @ 10:50 am

Many online journals tag paid content as such. Does AmCon accept payment, ad funding or favors for publishing such articles?

#19 Comment By Barry Hirsh On May 19, 2017 @ 6:50 pm

Yet another area where the federal government should keep its effing nose out of our business.

#20 Comment By APhoenix On May 23, 2017 @ 1:49 pm

I am hearing impaired since birth and a hearing specialist by trade. I got my first hearing aid at the age of 29, and it changed my life so completely that I decided to get into this field and do this for a living. I understand this argument from both sides of the equation. I see lots of misconceptions here in the comment section as well as in the article that I would like to attempt to address through the lens of my personal experiences.

First of all, the human auditory system is incredibly complex. I had *no idea* what went in to hearing, how my hearing impairment was affecting every single aspect of my life, how complex getting help actually was until I started going through the process myself to get help. Then I got the education to be able to help others and it is shocking how much there is to know about the human auditory system. I don’t even have the more advanced audiology degree and it was still over 2000 pages of training just to become a hearing specialist. It is much more to become an audiologist. There’s just nothing simple about it.

Dealing with hearing loss is far more than just sticking a device in the ear, and people who just want to hear better have absolutely no idea what actually goes into that. There is a fundamental lack of education around this incredibly common and serious health condition that does not get near the attention or respect it deserves. Furthermore, hearing loss is the only disability where it is still perfectly acceptable to make fun of people right to their faces, and to completely not accommodate what they need, and others get away with it. People are incredibly unkind and insensitive to the hearing impaired, and because no one wants to be treated like they are “less than” there is a huge problem with denial in the hearing impaired population. Most people stay in denial for 7-10 years before getting help rather than do the right thing and get help early. The stigma of hearing loss is something I have lived with my whole life and that needs to change on a society level. Cheap devices won’t do a thing about the stigma so long as it is still ok for everyone to treat us as “less than” and poke fun and carry on as if our needs don’t exist just because it is inconvenient to make the extra effort to communicate.

From the perspective as a specialist, before anyone even gets to the part where we stick a device in the ear, there are a lot of questions that must be answered. A health history must be done, visual inspection of the ear to ensure it is normal, plus wax needs removed, before we can even perform the initial testing. Just today, I had a lady come in for a follow up after I sent her to the doctor a few weeks ago with some red flags. They not only discovered a severe middle ear condition needing immediate treatment but also a serious heart condition that she was completely unaware of until I sent her to the doctor. One of her only symptoms was the change in her hearing. She thanked me for saving her life. She still has a ways to go with treatment before we can move forward with helping her hearing, but her heart is the more serious issue. Without the hearing screening I performed for her, she may not have found out about this until it was too late. The medical screenings hearing professionals perform cannot be underestimated.

Once we rule out medical red flags, more questions remain. What type and degree of hearing loss exists? What size ear canal and what kind of dexterity does that patient have? What about lifestyle, sound environments and personal preferences? Does this person make a lot of wax or sweat? Does this person stay mostly in quiet or get into a lot of noise? What kind of wireless features do they want (if any) or controls do they want (if any)? How do they want the device to fit in their ear? I ask probably abut 50 questions to help me narrow down the features and options until I can make an appropriate recommendation for the individual that takes all these factors into account. I work with one manufacturer exclusively, and in their menu of products there are 128 different options, more when you take into account accessories. Which one is right for which patient? It’s important to get it right for best results.

Once the hearing aid is selected and ordered, then it must be fit individually. I can’t just slap something in someone’s ears, click 2 buttons and see ya later. Each device must be programmed to each patient’s unique loss and tolerances. It is also not so simple as put it in and go. There’s a process in helping the brain to relearn how to make sense of the information that it has not been receiving for a very long period of time. It’s called auditory rehabilitation, and it is a crucial part of helping people to know what to expect realistically as they get help for their hearing. Most people also need between 2-4 adjustments to the aids before the audibility and comfort are satisfactory. That just doesn’t happen out of a box.

Hearing aids do not heal the ears. Even with the very best, most top of line hearing aids, like what I wear, it is not possible to get back normal hearing. We still need to concentrate harder to comprehend what is being said. We still need to adopt and utilize good communication skills that I help to teach patients and their families. We still need to be selective about positioning to help ourselves hear best in different environments, which I help teach people. We still need to keep realistic expectations about what is possible and not possible with the degree and type of hearing issues that we have, which is unique to each individual, and there’s no canned answers that I can hand out that are right for everybody. Every single patient is a unique challenge that must be handled and counseled individually in order to get the best outcome. That just doesn’t come out of a box.

Furthermore, let’s talk about pricing. There are basic hearing aids that start at around $500 apiece that still include all the professional services necessary to get them programmed and fit correctly. They don’t have all the fancy bells and whistles and noise filters as the top of line sets that people squawk about the cost of $8000 for the pair, but certainly not everyone needs a top of line pair. So let’s please keep the price of hearing aids in the realistic realm when we are having this debate and dispense with the “costs are more like $16k+ for the set” like one of the earlier commenters posted. If your hearing healthcare professional is wanting to charge you $16k for something, please, by all means find someone else! There’s this thing called shopping around, and it is 100% possible when looking at hearing aids. Find a hearing care professional that you are comfortable with, as this is actually a long term relationship you are starting here. Be sure it gets off on the right foot with someone you feel confident is making a good recommendation to you and is going to take care of you appropriately. As in all fields, there are some bad apples out there. It is unfair to paint all hearing professionals with a bad brush because there are a few shysters in the field. If you are not comfortable, walk away.

In my opinion, hearing aids are actually one of the best deals in modern medicine. First of all, you get to know your costs up front and approve them before they are incurred, unlike every other medical specialty where they do what they deem necessary and just send bills (and bills and bills which may or may not be covered by insurance) later. The current most widely adopted model also includes all the aftercare that you need to keep those hearing aids working long term including updated hearing tests and medical screenings, updating the settings of hearing aids when hearing changes, adjustments for sound quality issues, in-office repairs, wax management, professional deep cleaning and more at no additional charges. In what other medical field do you pay once and they take care of you for years? None of them! But let’s get rid of that care to make them “cheaper” so that people instead skip the necessary appointments that they need to keep them clean, adjusted and working because now they have to pay for them. My patients can come see me whenever they need me without fear of giant bills (or any bills) showing up in the mail. How nice is that? Plus, hearing aids include comprehensive warranties that cover repairs, loss and damage, so no matter what goes wrong, patients are covered for the term outlined and disclosed at the time of purchase -from 1-4 years depending. Can I get that type of warranty on anything else in life? Not that I’ve ever found. But let’s get rid of that to make it “cheaper”. Not only that, but when you try hearing aids, they also come with a trial period and money back guarantee. What other medical care do you get a money back guarantee? None that I’ve found. So, when you consider that hearing aids have a trial and guarantee to make sure they are working for the individual, last between 4-8 years depending upon the individual, have a warranty to cover anything that goes wrong, and also include all the office visits and care needed to keep them working well and make sure your ears are healthy during those years, are they really unaffordable? It works out to $.68 per day at a basic set ($1000/pr) lasting 4 years up to $2.73 per day at a top of line ($8000/pr) set lasting 8 years. Of course, this is a rough range that does not take into account every single possibility.

Real hearing help actually is affordable, and for those who truly have no means, there are programs such as Lion’s Club and Hear Now that can help. Our offices participate in those programs, and also take care of the people who get free hearing aids through those programs at no charge. Can’t get any more affordable than free. But they do have to meet the qualifications for these programs. There’s a difference between not being able to afford hearing aids and not wanting to pay for them.

Many complain about having to pay because they don’t understand the value they are actually getting. This is the fault of the audiology and hearing specialist community. We’ve attempted to sell hearing aids like used cars for years with sales, sales, sales, and focusing solely on the device while not charging separately for our services, so is it at all surprising that this debate focuses around only the device and not the critical services needed to make those devices work? Not to me, it isn’t. We have not done a very good job in educating the public about the importance of hearing, the complexity of hearing loss and just what it takes to improve the situation. This is something we, as professionals, need to get a lot better at and right now. We are not exactly blameless in this situation either.

Given how important hearing is to overall health, well-being, work and social functioning, and the serious medical risks involved with leaving hearing loss untreated or inappropriately treated, I don’t understand why this conversation is not focused on getting insurance companies to cover hearing healthcare appropriately including the devices and all professional services needed to properly serve the hearing impaired. Why are we trying to eliminate professional help and turn this into a do-it-yourself proposition when the average consumer cannot self-diagnose and self-manage hearing loss? The average person vastly underestimates how much hearing loss they have. Most of my new clients come in, often dragged by a spouse, self report that they hear “fine” and they only have trouble with “a couple situations/people” only to be diagnosed with severe hearing problems. We just have no concept what we’re missing *because* we’re missing it. How do you know you’re not hearing something you should? When you start hearing things again and you’re not used to them, how do you know what is normal and what is not? How do you know what to adjust when you sound like you’re in a barrel, or when things are too brassy, or when you still can’t understand, or when it’s just not clear, or when it makes a funny sound? There’s literally a million adjustments I can make to today’s modern hearing aids – the trick is knowing which one.

So now that OTC devices are going to be widely available (as if they weren’t already with hundreds of PSAP options currently on the market), how many people are going to try one and then think, “Oh this doesn’t help” and then give up because “hearing aids don’t work”? Too many because there are no one-size-fits-all hearing solutions, and OTC devices won’t make a difference for those who only perceive their problem is “mild” but have no idea the true extent of what they are missing. At least when they are trying a PSAP device, they are not under the impression it is a real hearing aid and when it doesn’t work as expected, it’s not a shock because it’s not meant to be a real hearing aid.

Furthermore, where do people go when their OTC hearing aids stop working? Who’s going to get wax out of their ears and deep clean the hearing aids and adjust them properly and screen them for medical problems? When an OTC aid gets stopped up with wax in a place the consumer can’t see or get to, are they going to come in for a professional cleaning? Or is it going to go in the drawer because “this piece of junk doesn’t work” causing them to go buy a new one or give up entirely? I’m seeing models now being pushed by insurance companies that reduce the cost of aids up front by separating the cost of the devices from the cost of the services and you know what I am seeing happen? People still think aids are expensive, and now they skip their service because they have to pay separately for it, so we’re back to not doing the right thing for themselves and living with dirty aids, dirty ears, no updated test, no routine maintenance or repairs that keeps it all going and sounding good. Including services in the pricing of the devices ensures no one is afraid to come see me when they need me, and I personally try very hard to help every person who walks in to walk out hearing better every single visit. Based on how happy my clients are to see me and how many friends they refer to me, they do.

This is not a simple problem, and it defies a simple solution. I understand the desire for cheap. On so many things where health and proper functioning are not on the line, I go cheap myself. I’m a budget shopper and online deal hunter, but even I know there’s a difference between doing something cheap and doing it right. OTC is the wrong way to go for the hearing impaired. They deserve nothing less than the real help it takes to actually achieve better hearing, and that just doesn’t come out of a box off the shelf.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. I hope it adds something of value to this discussion.

#21 Comment By Bob Wright On May 27, 2017 @ 3:24 am

Johnny Kampis needs to get his hearing checked, because the dementia he talks about seems to have set in.