New over-the-counter hearing aids hit the shelves on Oct. 17 across the country, a new development announced by President Joe Biden in an official statement. The FDA issued a final rule giving adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss access to hearing aids at their local store or online without a prescription, exam or audiologist fitting.
Biden said the FDA projects this could decrease the average cost of hearing aids by up to $3,000 per pair, “providing significant breathing room for the nearly 30 million Americans with hearing loss,” he said.
The move is a welcome one for many older adults, including Jo Deaton, a 67-year-old from Annapolis, Maryland, who said she started noticing difficulty hearing in the past two years. She said she’d seek over-the-counter hearing aids if and when she needs them in the future.
“It sounds so much more affordable [than prescriptions],” she said.
However, some older adults may find the new hearing aid options are noticeably absent from their local drugstore or retailer.
According to the administration’s statement, rollout in large retailers will be staggered and also may vary by state:
- Walgreens: Now in stores nationwide and online for $799 per pair
- CVS: Select stores in November
- Best Buy: Available in nearly 300 stores nationwide by the end of October
- Walmart: Will offer an assortment on Walmart.com, SamsClub.com and in more than 1,000 Vision Centers in Walmart stores (but limited to Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and 474 Sam’s Club Hearing Aid Center locations)
- Hy-Vee: Will sell online and in 34 locations across Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin, expanding to 100 locations by the end of the year (with models ranging in price from $499.99 to $999.99)
In his public statement, Biden did not include a reason as to why locations are limited.
Some stores say they haven’t seen substantial sales of the new hearing aids, or don’t have them in stock at all. So far, the initial rollout has been inconsistent by state, with Walmart stores in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Georgia and Arkansas, as well as Walgreens stores in New York and Maryland reporting no inventory as of press date.
And one Walmart location in Florida said it is already stocking hearing aids, despite the fact that the initial list excludes the state.
A representative of the store said awareness of the hearing aids is still low:
“We haven’t sold any, but we’ve handed out all the brochures for them,” said Stephanie Clarke, an apprentice optician for a Walmart in Punta Gorda, Florida.
In the meantime, older adults interested in purchasing OTC hearing aids should check online if they don’t see them in stores.
Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Best Buy all have online options, including brands like Lexie and Go Lite and prices that range from close to $60 to almost $1,000, depending on the model and style of the aid.
Still, some hearing professionals said offering this option nationally is more affordable for older adults and will improve accessibility to hearing care.
Meredith Duffy, AuD, told the Medical University of South Carolina the new over-the-counter hearing aids “definitely gives more access to people who don’t have the financial ability to buy traditional hearing aids. It also might push people who are aware of their hearing loss to try amplification sooner than later. The OTC options will give those with less hearing loss improved access to devices that meet their needs and are less expensive than current options.”
According to the American Academy of Audiology, studies show the average person waits up to 10 years after first having symptoms before seeking professional help for their hearing.
“Studies also link untreated hearing loss with an increased risk of depression, falls and earlier onset of decline in thought processes,” the group writes. “One goal of OTC hearing aids is to provide more timely access to lower-cost hearing aids.”