Editorial: Over-the-counter aid for hearing loss

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Could changes similar to those announced by the FDA be enacted in British Columbia? There are certainly reasons to consider it.

In a major policy change, the US Food and Drug Administration has relaxed its regulations governing the sale of hearing aids. To date, as in British Columbia, patients with hearing loss who wished to purchase a hearing aid had to see an audiologist, who would determine the degree of their hearing loss and fit them with the appropriate hearing aid.

This requirement has been removed. People aged 18 and over with mild to moderate hearing loss can now buy hearing aids over the counter, without needing to see an audiologist or present a prescription.

The only limitation is that hearing aids sold in this way must be user controllable and customizable to the user’s needs. Stores selling these aids may offer a testing service if they wish, although a variety of hearing tests are available for free online.

The FDA had been asked to relax its regulations by Congress, after complaints from user groups about the high cost of hearing aids. The American non-profit group Consumer Reports published research showing an average profit margin of 117% in the United States. The new FDA policy aims to reduce these margins by increasing competition.

Part of the problem is that hearing aids are made in North America by a limited number of producers, whose virtual monopoly allows them to manipulate prices.

It is also believed that these companies will offer financial incentives to audiologists who agree to accommodate and only sell their product. This can make it difficult for consumers to shop. They are, indeed, a captive audience.

Could changes similar to those announced by the FDA be enacted in British Columbia? There are certainly reasons to consider it.

A recent CBC report found that in Canada, hearing aids are often made for as little as $150, sold to audiologists for $400 to $600, and then retailed to clients for between $1,000 and $4,000. $. These are huge margins.

Of course, audiologists might reasonably point out that their fees not only include the hearing aid, but also their service fees. They may also find that patients benefit from the advice and guidance that only a trained expert can provide.

Even so, mild to moderate hearing loss is a common condition. About 40% of adults between the ages of 20 and 79 have at least mild hearing loss.

Since hearing aids are generally not covered by government health insurance plans, many people who might benefit from this form of assistance may not be able to afford it.

So if there is a financial rationale to be made for lowering the prices of hearing aids in British Columbia, how could this be done?

There are two options. First, the province could amend the Health Professions Act to make hearing aids available over the counter, without the involvement of an audiologist.

Health Canada said provincial governments have the legislative authority to make this change.

Second, it might be possible for the College of Speech and Hearing Professionals to request a price reduction.

Currently, the college board has eight professional members and five public members appointed by the province. It would probably be necessary for the government to increase the number of members of the public to carry out such a change.

But whichever path is chosen, there is a strong case for action to end the current situation. The ability to correct hearing loss should not be limited to those with deep pockets.

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