|Recently, President Biden signed an executive order regarding multiple industries, like airlines, the internet, and hearing aids. Since Good Morning America’s reporting on the topic was a little light on the details, we thought this would be an excellent opportunity to dive into hearing aids (as well as over-the-counter hearing aids) so we’re sure to understand all the facts, not sensationalized reporting.|
First of all, let’s outline what an audiologist is:
An audiologist is a professional who diagnoses and treats hearing and balance problems. They have an Au.D. (Doctorate in Audiology), or a Master’s or Doctoral degree from an accredited university graduate program in audiology. Audiologists are trained to diagnose, manage, and treat hearing or balance issues from birth through adulthood. And of course, audiologists must abide by a strict code of ethics.
#1: Audiologists are NOT price gouging the public. It’s important to note that audiologists cannot bill insurances for professional fees that cover counseling or rehabilitation. Audiologists can only bill for procedures like a hearing test.
For an hour or longer hearing evaluation and counseling appointment, Medicare will pay about $28. How do audiologists make up for that? They hope to make it up with the sale of hearing aids. There are between 6-10 subsequent follow-ups and routine checks during the first year of hearing aid use at no charge (most of the time) to the patient under the warranty terms of the hearing aids (this again is generally not billable and not usually an out-of-pocket expense to the patient). Pharmacies are not going to provide this level of service to patients with hearing loss as they are not audiologists. Simply put, the cost of hearing aids is not only for the device itself but for the device and the corresponding service provided to patients to ensure they are successful with their new hearing technology.
#2: Hearing loss is not necessarily easily treated and diagnosed. Bypassing professional advice from an audiologist for an over-the-counter option may mean you or a loved one won’t get properly diagnosed.
Hearing loss could be due to a disease process, eardrum issues, earwax build-up, or even an acoustic tumor. An over-the-counter consultation will merely provide you with an amplifier, not a diagnosis with a route to recovery.
#3: Hearing aid pricing does not start at $5,000 and go up from there. In fact, hearing aids can cost as low as $600 each.
Premium hearing aids can cost a lot more than that, but there’s no need to spend $5,000 just to get treatment. Each recommendation should be based on the patients’ lifestyle and needs, not cost.
#4: Over-the-counter Hearing Aids are not for sale yet. If you see something at a local store that looks like one, it isn’t. It’s a one-size-fits-all amplifier.
A true hearing aid is set for your specific hearing needs by a professional with a license because it is a medical device.
#5: Over-the-counter hearing aids are not for children. Under no circumstance would a medical professional ever recommend an over-the-counter hearing aid for a child – again, hearing aids are medical devices, not consumer electronics.
Children should be examined carefully so the proper equipment can be suggested and provided. For hearing loss at any age, but especially as a child, it’s important to receive comprehensive and proper treatment right from the get-go.
#6: Alternative access to hearing aids is available. For patients who need assistance paying for hearing aids, there are options like Medicaid, Vocational Rehabilitation Programs, Title V funds, and even the VA.
State and federal employees have access to insurance that covers hearing aids, and the VA provides hearing aids to eligible patients. And there are a variety of non-profit groups that help in that as well. Ask your audiologist about what programs are available to help you.
What’s important to remember is that audiologists are here to help diagnose, manage, and treat hearing loss, not profit from it. Effective treatment for hearing loss isn’t just access to hearing aids, it includes an accurate diagnosis of the issue at hand, a strategic treatment strategy, as well as multiple follow-up visits to ensure the proposed strategy is working as planned. We hope these clarifying points help you understand the complexity associated with hearing loss, especially with the notion of over-the-counter hearing aids. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out. Give us a call, shoot us an email, or make an appointment – we are here to help, always.
Credit: Emily Earnest, MA.
Past President of the Arkansas Academy of Audiology
Created By: Amit Gosalia, AuD
Board-Certified Doctor of Audiology
West Valley Hearing Center