Focus at Four: New law allows patients to skip doctor, buy hearing aids over the counter

“You don’t feel like being part of the community anymore because it’s just too painful to go out and try to communicate," said Barbara Kelley with the Hearing Loss Association of America.

Kelley says, many people can't treat their hearing loss because they can't afford a hearing aid. That's why she and her organization support a new law that would allow the sale of hearing aids over the counter, without a visit to the doctor.

“Getting hearing help a lot more affordable and accessible for consumers," said Kelley.

But a College Station audiologist says, it's not that simple.

"My biggest concern is the health and safety of doing this," said Dr. Robert Herring from Listen Hear Audiology.

Herring says he sees a patient "at least once a week" that simply had too much ear wax blocking their hearing. "But if a hearing aid was offered over the counter, that person may spend $500 to fix a problem that doesn't exist because they did have to see a doctor first," said Herring.

Furthermore, Herring predicts a more serious problem.

"Sometimes, a hearing issue is actually a tumor or bad infection," said Herring. "If those go untreated, they can cause major damage to your organs."

Herring also says that hearing aids don't have to be $4,000.

"Depending on what you need, it may cost less than $1,000," said Herring. "There are options."

To Herring, this law allowing hearing aids to be bought off the shelf isn't the solution, but he does recognize the problem.

"There do need to be more affordable options within the industry and with insurance plans to get people the hearing aids they need," said Herring.

The Food and Drug Administration still needs to come up with standards for over the counter hearing aids, meaning you won’t find any approved devices on the shelf yet.

The FDA has up to three years to come up with those standards.
For Herring's full comments, see the video player above. For more on his audiology practice, see the Related Links.