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Thanks to a new rule, you can now save thousands buying over-the-counter hearing aids at stores like Walmart, Best Buy, or CVS

hearing aids
Halfdark/Getty Images
  • People who need hearing aids can now get them over-the-counter at major retailers and pharmacies.

  • In August, the Food and Drug Administration established a category of hearing aids that don't require a medical exam.

  • Around 30 million Americans have hearing loss, and the FDA estimates people can save $3,000 per pair of hearing aids.

People with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss will now be able to buy over-the-counter hearing aids at major retailers like Walmart and Best Buy, and pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens.

In August, the Food and Drug Administration established a category of OTC hearing aids that could be purchased directly at stores or online. It's a major change in the US that means many hearing aids won't require a medical exam, prescription or custom fitting from an audiologist — all of which can add thousands to the total price.

The FDA estimates that the OTC hearing aids can lower the average cost of a pair of hearing aids by $3,000. The average cost of one hearing aid is around $2,300, but can range between $1,000 to $4,000 for each ear, according to Consumer Affairs. Some hearing aids can cost up to $6,000 per ear.

In the US, around 15% of adults aged 18 and over, 37.5 million people, report trouble hearing, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Common Disorders. The NIDCD also found that one in eight people in the US over the age of 12 — around 30 million people — has hearing loss in both ears. And an estimated 28.8 million adults would benefit from wearing hearing aids.

"Reducing health care costs in America has been a priority of mine since Day One and this rule is expected to help us achieve quality, affordable health care access for millions of Americans in need," Xavier Becerra, US health and human services secretary, said in August when the ruling was made. "Today's action by the FDA represents a significant milestone in making hearing aids more cost-effective and accessible."

Not all private healthcare plans pay for exams for hearing aids, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and Medicare doesn't cover hearing aids or hearing-aid fittings. However, children and some adults with Medicaid can have hearing aids paid for by the program.

"We're all excited about this new category of devices," Lindsay Creed, associate director of audiology practices at ASHA said. "We hope that over-the-counter hearing aids offer an option for people who need them, but more work needs to be done to make hearing loss treatment affordable to people who need it."

Creed said it's important that people know OTC hearing aids are not replacing prescription hearing aids, and they don't minimize the importance of working with an audiologist or medical professional to get hearing aids.

Hearing aids at Walgreens stores and online will be available for $799 a pair. Other models similar to the OTC hearing aids sell for between $2,000 to $8,000 a pair from a specialist, according to Walgreens. CVS will have different options and prices online, but in November, the drug store will start selling hearing aids in select stores.

a compilation of images of hearing aids now available to buy over the counter at Walmart.com
Hearing aids now available OTC at Walmart.com.Walmart

Best Buy will have around 20 different kinds of hearing aids online this week, and will sell hearing aids in around 300 stores by the end of October. Hearing aids at Best Buy will cost between $200 and $3,000.

Walmart and Sam's Club are both offering OTC hearing aids online, and in over 1,000 Vision Centers located in Walmart stores in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. Over 470 Sam's Club Hearing Aid Center locations will also have OTC hearing aids in store. Hearing aids from Walmart will cost between $199 to $999 per pair, and be from brands like Lexie, which is powered by Bose, and HearX.

Ninety percent of the US population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart store, and 150 million customers go to Walmart each week, according to the company, meaning hearing aids will be more accessible to more people.

The hearing aid industry could one day see some disruption from tech giants as well.

Apple studied adding more advanced hearing-aid features to its AirPods, documents reviewed last year by The Wall Street Journal showed. If the company were to eventually sell AirPods as hearing aids, they would likely be less expensive than a pair of traditional hearing aids and break stigmas around wearing hearing aids, Dr. Nicholas Reed, an audiologist at Johns Hopkins told the WSJ last year.

Read the original article on Business Insider