What over-the-counter hearing aids in the US could mean for Canada

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Hearing aids have become considerably cheaper in the United States now that major retailers and pharmacies are allowed to sell them without a prescription.

The change has many Canadians wondering if it will happen in this country.

The decision to allow Americans to obtain certain hearing aids without a prescription went into effect this week, more than five years after legislation was passed directing the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create rules for over-the-counter sales of devices.

Studies by audiologists estimate that about three million Canadians have some degree of hearing loss that could be improved with hearing aids, but 80 percent do not wear them.

Cost is thought to be a major reason: the most basic hearing aids available in Canada start at around $2,000 a pair. Stigma, difficulty getting hearing aids to work properly, and reluctance to admit a hearing problem are also factors.

Here’s what you need to know about over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.

Ginny Merringer has her hearing tested at the University Health Network’s Munk Hearing Center in Toronto. She sees her audiologist regularly to make sure her hearing aids are working properly. (Derek Hooper/CBC)

Why are over-the-counter hearing aids so important?

There is broad consensus that this change will make hearing aids more affordable for the millions of Americans who need them.

Until the FDA was ordered to change its rules, hearing aids could only be obtained in the United States by prescription. This required a visit to an audiologist or medical specialist, along with a comprehensive hearing test and medical evaluation. The cost of all these services has been incorporated into the list price of the hearing aids.

These requirements were unnecessary and served as “bureaucracy and a barrier to more companies selling hearing aids,” the White House said in a statement. statement.

Who can use OTC hearing aids?

Over-the-counter hearing aids are for adults with “mild to moderate hearing loss,” according to new FDA regulations.

Over-the-counter models would not be suitable for adults with severe hearing loss or children.

A hearing aid is held in a woman's hand.
Hearing aids in Canada are currently only available by prescription and can cost between $2,000 and $8,000 a pair. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

How much do they cost ?

US retailers began carrying hearing aids online and in stores on Monday when the new rules took effect.

best buy announcement it sold 20 models at prices ranging from US$200 to US$3,000 a pair. walmart prices ranging from US$199 to US$999 a pair, while Walgreens drugstore started selling these hearing aids for US$799.

The companies describe these over-the-counter hearing aids as “comparable” to versions sold by specialty hearing clinics for between $2,000 and $8,000 a pair.

This is also roughly the price range in Canada, where hearing aids are currently only available by prescription. The cost includes all services of an audiologist, from initial tests to follow-up adjustments.

In the UK, hearing aids are provided free by the National Health Service.

Carolyn Falls is the Director of Audiology Services at Toronto General Hospital. She said over-the-counter hearing aids could be an opportunity to entice patients who might not wear hearing aids to try them. (Derek Hooper/CBC)

What are the advantages and disadvantages?

The main argument in favor of OTC hearing aids is their affordability.

“I see these self-adjusting over-the-counter devices as a real opportunity to bring patients who might not normally [wear hearing aids] really try them,” said Carolyn Falls, director of audiology at Toronto General Hospital of the University Health Network.

The main concern raised by audiologists is that people find that over-the-counter hearing aids don’t work well and give up wearing them.

Their warning in simple terms: if you buy hearing aids off the shelf like you buy a television, you may not be choosing the best model to improve your hearing.

“Hearing loss and auditory system deficits are best managed through the development of a personalized, person-centered treatment plan that audiologists are uniquely qualified to provide,” says a statement by Speech-Language & Audiology Canada, the body that represents the profession.

WATCH | What would it take for over-the-counter hearing aids to come to Canada?

What over-the-counter hearing aids in the US could mean for Canadians

Hearing aids are now available south of the border at stores like Best Buy and WalMart for as little as US$200 a pair.

Will Canada allow over-the-counter hearing aids?

A range of people connected to the field of hearing loss expect Canada to follow the US lead, but there is no consensus on how quickly this will happen.

The way forward is made a little more complicated by the fact that both federal and provincial governments would have to make changes.

Health Canada regulates hearing aids as medical devices, so the federal agency should approve over-the-counter models for sale in Canada.

It is up to the provinces to decide whether such hearing aids can be sold without a prescription. For example in Ontario, provincial law says that only a registered health professional can prescribe a hearing aid, and prohibited provide anyone with a hearing aid without a prescription.

Dr. Paul Mick, an ear, nose and throat specialist and associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said he believed there was a very good chance that hearing aid regulations would change in the Canada.

“I think it’s a great opportunity, what’s happening in the United States, to learn what works and what doesn’t and then take that knowledge and build our own program,” Mick said in an interview with CBC News.

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