Arizona advocates have mixed response to over-the-counter hearing aids

Sep 12, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 7:38 am
(Photo by Óscar J. Barroso/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Óscar J. Barroso/Getty Images)
(Photo by Óscar J. Barroso/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Although the Biden Administration believes hearing aids could be available for over-the-counter purchase by mid-October, some Arizona advocates feel it won’t address the real issues of hearing health care.

In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized the move to make acquiring hearing aids easier which may, in turn, lower the ultimate cost of hearing devices.

Using statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders which states roughly 15% of American adults report some sort of hearing trouble, the Biden Administration estimates this move to make hearing aids more accessible could help more than 30 million Americans.

While the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing agrees the need is there, it acknowledges that this may not be the most comprehensive solution.

Michele Michaels, hearing health care program manager with the commission, told KTAR News 92.3 FM that she is already starting to see that shift occur to some extent.

“What’s going to happen, most likely, is that manufacturers of electronic devices that help people hear are going to start making devices and calling them hearing aids,” Michaels explained.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of new devices. They’re going to be less expensive because there is no there is no testing, there is no professional adjustment modifying for the different frequencies.”

Michaels added that these types of hearing devices may only cost a few hundred dollars over-the-counter compared to traditional hearing aids, which costs thousands typically.

That’s where the concern lies for hearing health care advocates like Michaels.

When getting something over-the-counter, consumers get the option to cut out doctors’ appointments and seeing specialists, many times which may not be covered by insurance.

However, hearing aids may not always be the answer to hearing loss.

“Accessing these devices may help people but we do want people to think also about at least checking with a professional before they spend money on something that may or may not help,” Michaels explained.

She went on to add that while she hopes this initiative will start to get more people thinking about their hearing as health care, there also needs to be a shift in the overall health care coverage of hearing.

“If insurance companies were to look at hearing as a health care issue and say, ‘you know, that’s something we should cover,’ that would really help because then people would get the appropriate testing and a really high technology device, professionally fitted.”

But until that shift occurs, the commission is working to making hearing health care more accessible to all Arizonans.

“We know that when you don’t treat your hearing loss we see higher levels of dementia, more frequent falling, higher levels of withdrawal,” Michaels said.

That’s why ACDHH teamed up with Arizona State University’s Speech and Hearing Clinic to provide hearing aids, all the testing included, completely free to low income adults. The plan is to expand that program statewide within the next few years.

The commission is also working with state lawmakers to see that hearing health care gets covered for those 21 and older who use the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCS), the state’s Medicaid agency.

Michaels said anyone who is struggling with hearing loss or hoping to volunteer with those struggling can contact the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at 602-542-3323 or visit online.

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Arizona advocates have mixed response to over-the-counter hearing aids