With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q:  Why are you working to ensure certain types of hearing aids are available over the counter?

A:  Throughout my public service, I make it a number one priority to listen to the people of Iowa. Representative government is a two-way street and it’s my job to make sure government works for “we the people” not the other way around. Too many people feel their concerns and points of view are unheard in Washington. Pulling the curtain back on bloated bureaucracies and rolling back red tape and excessive regulation will help improve accountability, solve problems and better serve Americans in their daily lives. That includes working to make it easier and more affordable for the millions of aging Americans who live with hearing loss to get hearing aids if they choose to do so.

Consider that about 40 percent of Americans age 60 and older live with hearing loss. And yet, of those, less than 20 percent use a hearing aid. Why would millions of American adults with impaired hearing avoid assistive medical technology? This is rather surprising because hearing loss affects our ability to participate in conversations, our work productivity, and even traffic safety. Hearing loss can contribute to social isolation among seniors. Iowans tell me that a couple of factors influence their decision to take a pass on hearing aids: They are too expensive and inconvenient to obtain in the first place. The average price for a hearing aid is $2,000 per device.

Until recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required a medical evaluation to obtain a prescription or a signed waiver declining a medical exam before a person could buy a hearing aid. The good news is that the FDA recently agreed that this outdated policy is unnecessary. Making hearing aids more affordable and accessible to people with mild to moderate hearing loss arguably would be a game-changer for roughly 30 million Americans who may benefit from assistive hearing technology. It’s bewildering that a consumer can buy non-prescription reading glasses over the counter but relatively simple hearing aids are not available for sale off the shelf. The FDA’s policy change is supported by the National Academies of Sciences, a group of the most knowledgeable doctors in the country. In its recent report, it found “no evidence or clinically meaningful benefit” to the decades-long requirement that required a medical evaluation or signed waiver prior to buying or using a hearing aid.  Additionally, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology supports this approach.

When I learn about a problem where I can help make a difference, I get to work. That’s why I introduced a bipartisan bill, S. 9, with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), called the “Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act.” It would make permanent the policy change the FDA announced in December and direct the FDA to ensure the safe use of these products. Putting consumers in the driver’s seat by expanding choice and competition will help drive down prices and drive up the quality of life for millions of Americans.  When the federal bureaucracy takes commonsense steps to remove unnecessary red tape, it’s good news all around. I’ll keep working to remove other regulatory barriers so quality health care and medical technology are more affordable and accessible to all Americans.

Q:  How can we apply lessons learned from this commonsense approach to other areas of health care?

A:  Robust competition makes good things happen in the free market. It brings us innovative technology that improves our daily lives, grows the economy, creates jobs and increases productivity. Technology is transforming sectors of the economy and how we work, communicate, eat, heal and live, from agriculture to energy to health care. Removing outdated federal regulations standing in the way of making safe hearing aids available for American adults is a commonsense way to bring health care costs down in one area.  Policymakers can apply this approach to other areas of health care to help foster better care, better outcomes and better value for American consumers and taxpayers.