A measure that would make hearing aids available over the counter passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday.
The measure, co-sponsored by Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan, was included in a broader bill to fund the Food and Drug Administration, which passed the Senate in an 94-1 vote.
“This bill could help improve the quality of life for nearly 50 million Americans who struggle to hear everyday conversations,” Buchanan said after the passage of the vote. “Many people who need the hearing aids cannot afford the high price tag of $4,000 or more.”
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act is expected to drive down costs by allowing people with mild to moderate hearing loss to purchase aids without a doctor’s prescription. It’s predicted to reduce the cost of a pair of hearing aids down from several thousand dollars to only a few hundred dollars.
The bill passed despite opposition from the hearing aid industry, and some hearing specialists, who warned that it’s dangerous to encourage people to self-diagnose hearing loss and it’s important to have professionals involved in the process of diagnosis and fitting hearing aids, according to the Boston Globe.
Currently, a formal medical evaluation is required before seniors can purchase hearing aids. In most cases, consumers can only buy hearing aids from audiologists — professionals trained in treating hearing problems — or licensed hearing aid sellers after the evaluation. The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act would remove these requirements so the hearing aids could be purchased in a simple, over-the-counter fashion.