Nearly every Floridian knows someone who lives with hearing loss and perhaps wears a hearing aid.
In fact, Florida and its more than 4 million seniors serve as one of the country’s largest markets for hearing aids.
To ensure safety and protect individuals from harm, Florida law has since 1995 required professional assistance for hearing aid testing and fitting and has also prohibited sending hearing aids to patients through the mail.
A bill (HB 957) has been introduced this Legislative Session that would nix the professional assistance requirements and allow hearing aids to be mailed directly to patients.
On the surface, this might seem reasonable until you understand the intricacies of hearing health.
Not all hearing loss is the same. For children, it might be diagnosed at birth or shortly thereafter. The stakes are higher for children as good hearing is critical to speech and language development. And of course, children have unique needs and require specialized care.
Protecting our children is paramount and this legislation is opposed by organizations concerned with the needs of this vulnerable population.
For adults, hearing loss could be the result of aging, noise exposure, medical treatment or injury and their hearing loss could range from mild or moderate or to severe or profound.
Florida law currently recognizes “that the dispensing of hearing aids requires particularized knowledge and skill to ensure that the interests of the hearing-impaired public will be adequately served and safely protected.”
Consumer groups, hearing care professional groups and manufacturers who have put the interest of patients first have weighed in to oppose HB 957.
There is a need for a delicate balance between access and consumer protection in dispensing hearing aids.
As lawmakers seek to improve access for consumers, appropriate guardrails must be put in place to protect them from devices that would offer little to no benefit.
Advocates agree that the Florida statute for hearing health would benefit from a thoughtful review to rule out unintended consequences that could open the door to bad actors who don’t abide by regulations that protect consumers.
Florida is a national leader in patient safety for individuals living with hearing loss and passing this legislation will change that. Gov. Ron DeSantis put seniors first in his vaccination efforts and defeating this legislation will be another important step for Florida’s leaders in protecting the state’s most vulnerable.