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Americans will soon be able to buy hearing aids without a prescription


Hearing aids will soon become easier to buy and maybe even less expensive for millions of people with mild to moderate hearing loss. That's because the Food and Drug Administration has cleared the way for over-the-counter and online sales. NPR's Maria Godoy reports.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Up until now, hearing aids have been regulated as prescription medical devices. And for the more than 40 million Americans with hearing loss, that means they needed a medical exam or other specialty evaluation before purchasing.

XAVIER BECERRA: That requirement for many people is inconvenient. It discourages them from seeking help.

GODOY: Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra says those regulations have also discouraged competition among hearing aid manufacturers, helping to keep prices very high.

BECERRA: Hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars to prepare, and they're not always covered by insurance.

GODOY: But Becerra says help is on the way. New FDA rules create a class of over-the-counter hearing aids for adults that can be sold in retail stores and online without a prescription or special fittings. Brian Deese of the National Economic Council says the goal is to make it easier for more manufacturers to enter the market and encourage competition.

BRIAN DEESE: We expect that that competition will drive down costs. In fact, the FDA estimates this rule will save consumers on the order of about $1,400 per individual hearing aid or over $2,800 per pair.

GODOY: But ultimately, advocates say the new rule change isn't just about business innovation. Dr. Frank Lin is a professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He says research shows hearing loss can have profound impacts on health because it often leads to social isolation and a lack of auditory stimuli that can change the brain.

FRANK LIN: Hearing loss is arguably the dominant risk factor for dementia.

GODOY: But it's a risk factor that may potentially be lessened by a good hearing aid.

Maria Godoy, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.