Can Regulatory Changes Improve the Health of Older Americans with Hearing Loss?

Only one in seven Americans who could benefit from a hearing aid owns one. Why is this, what are the consequences, and what can we do about it?  In a new article in the American Journal of Public Health, NYU Wagner Professor Jan Blustein and her colleague, Professor Barbara Weinstein of the CUNY Graduate Center, argue that better health policy could substantially improve our nation’s health.

They note that hearing loss is particularly common among older Americans. One quarter of US adults aged 60 to 69 has a disabling hearing loss, and this rises to 80% for those over 80. Studies show that people with hearing loss are more apt to be isolated and depressed. They are also linked to a number of poor health outcomes, including falls, fractures and cognitive decline. Low rates of hearing aid uptake reflect many factors, but importantly, they argue, hearing aids are too expensive. A typical aid costs $2,500, and most older people need devices for both ears. The Medicare program does not cover hearing aids, and seniors in need cite affordability as a key barrier to buying hearing aids.

As it stands, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly regulates hearing aids and related devices, stifling competition in the device market. The authors cite two recent reports that argue that changes in the FDA’s rules could help. By creating an over-the-counter class of hearing devices, the FDA could bring hearing assistance within the financial reach of more seniors.  If prices came down as a result, insurers might find it easier to cover the cost hearing aids. Being able to afford hearing aids could improve the lives of the 42 million Americans with hearing loss.

The article can be found here