Several weeks ago Congress passed, and President Trump signed, a piece of legislation that contains what is commonly referred to as the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017. In short, this enables a new category of Over the Counter (OTC) hearing aids to come to market. Previously, only devices that were overseen by the FDA could be labeled and marketed as “Hearing Aids” anything else that just amplified sound (Personal Sound Amplification Product or PSAP) could not be marketed towards those with hearing loss, or make the same claims as hearing aids.
The overarching theme behind the bill, was access and affordability. Members of Congress, such as Senator Grassley of Iowa who co-sponsored the bill, opined that there should be a lower cost option to treat mild to moderate hearing loss, similar to the reading glasses that are available at pharmacies.
While I could write an entire post on the differences between hearing loss and correction versus vision loss and correction, we’ll save that for another time. However, it should be noted that this new category of products is not a be all, end all solution. Folks like myself wonder about the possibility of covering up or prolonging more serious medical conditions. Also, just the ability to properly fit the device becomes somewhat of an art. For someone with no experience with doing so, can cause problems. Third, where will these “patients” go when the need help?
Skeptics will say that me and others are just trying to protect our bottom line, and that is why we don’t want to see these new products come to market. Sure, nobody wants to see their line of work (passion for some, career for others) disappear, but I personally am a little more pragmatic on the whole subject than some of my colleagues that I’ve spoken to. I once heard an interview with Bill Gates and he said something to the effect of ‘if Norfolk Southern would have understood that they were in the transportation business, and not the train business, right now they would be in the air line business’.
Here’s the deal. The hearing industry has, is and will be changing. If it means better hearing health care, at lower price, for more people, than I’m coming along for the ride.