You can now buy a pair of hearing aids at Walmart for as little as $199—a fraction of the $4,000 average cost of traditional prescription hearing aids, per CNN. As a result of a 2017 federal law and some prodding of the FDA by the Biden administration, hearing aids for those with mild to moderate hearing loss are now available over the counter and at relatively low cost because an evaluation, fitting, and setup with an audiologist is not required. Buyers will do the setup on their own with these devices—which will be clearly labeled as FDA approved—with manufacturers offering assistance via phone or app, per Kaiser Health News.
"From a conceptual point of view, this is huge that this is finally happening," Dr. Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, tells the outlet. He adds prices will fall even further as more competitors enter the market. For now, Walmart stores in certain states are offering a pair of hearing aids from South Africa-based company hearX for $199 to $299. Walgreens will offer the Lexie Lumen OTC hearing aids from hearX for $799 a pair, while Sony is offering its cheapest over-the-counter hearing aids at stores including Best Buy for $999, per Kaiser.
Prices and features vary depending on the device, but newer technology found in the most expensive prescription aids are expected to be available in the cheaper varieties, some of which are "nearly invisible," per Kaiser. Some audiologists say individuals should undergo a routine hearing test—typically covered by health insurers—before making a purchase, to determine if hearing aids are appropriate and because over-amplifying sound can damage hearing. However, rules require that the new hearing aids "have safe maximum audio levels to help protect consumers' hearing," Kaiser notes. NPR offers more tips on making a purchase. (Read more hearing aid stories.)