Hearing aids are no laughing matter.
I have a client whose father visits her from time to time, and when I would get to the front door of their house, I could tell her dad was visiting. I could hear the TV through the front door. The first time I went there and experienced this I said, “What the heck is going on?” I was told, “Dad’s hearing aids have stopped working, and he won’t admit he needs new ones.” His daughter said, “They are so expensive he thinks he can get along without them, so he tries by turning up the volume. With the TV so loud, he can’t hear the doorbell or the smoke detector and that worries me.”
The co-host on my radio show wears a hearing aid that cost him $2,500 for one ear, and it has lasted him about seven years. He knows he needs a new one, but that is a lot of money for a person on a fixed income. He thinks deregulation of the industry will bring down the price so he can afford to replace his existing hearing aid.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) new bill, The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, is sold under the guise of doing just that, so it’s no surprise that some Republicans have jumped for joy at the prospect.
Unfortunately, however, the bill will do far from that. Warren, a Senator who never met a government regulation she didn’t love, isn’t seeking to knock down government regulations – she wants to increase them to benefit at least two companies, include Bay State-based Bose Corporation, which wants to stranglehold its competition.
When a companion measure was brought before the House of Representatives, over twenty conservative organizations voiced concern, not over the specter of more competition in the marketplace, but because of the way Warren and her allies are going about it.
Warren’s legislation is not about deregulation and competition. It is about cronyism and bigger government. The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act imposes new regulations on Personal Sound Amplifying Devices (PSAPs), such as those purchased in stores like Walmart and Best Buy, without a prescription. Her bill would allow individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss to purchase these new devices, pushed by Bose, without a prescription.
But here’s the catch: PSAPs are already available without a prescription. The difference is that they are not marketed as medical hearing aids. Warren’s bill would force them to go under FDA regulation and classification, hence spiking their cost. Here is an excellent example of the Government at work, deciding who will have the right to sell a product; the price of a package of two Epi Pens soared from $100 in 2007 to over $600 by May 2016 as the FDA blocked competition, preventing the manufacturer Mylan from offering a product at a lower price. When the government eliminated them from the market, the price went up six times. Who is to say that the FDA won’t be picking favorites among hearing aid producers?
The House failed to do the right thing by passing the bill without addressing these critical concerns. The legislation has now moved to the Senate where is can be fixed. Thankfully, Sen. Roberts, Collins and Cornyn have all agreed the legislation can be perfected.
Competition is good for consumers. But wrapping up a regulation-producing bill that increases the role of the federal government in a deregulatory bow, does not make it so.
The Senate should limit the role of the federal government while recognizing that selecting the right and proper hearing aid is something best suited for a doctor. It is more than sticking something in your ear to see if it works. In addition to a physical fitting, there are delicate programing decisions and adjustments that must be made. Senators seeking to fix the bill will need to walk this line to find the right approach.
Otherwise it would be best to leave things the way they are. Americans can purchase sound amplifying devices over the counter today without the need for more government and they can get a doctor to address their hearing loss issues. Buying a hearing aid over the Internet won’t solve your hearing loss issues – but that’s not what PSAPs were made for in the first place, and the government shouldn’t treat them as so.
Dan Perkins is an author, radio and TV talk show host of Recalculating for Small Business, and is also a current events commentator on seven blogs, and a philanthropist. His books are available on Amazon.com. More information about him, his writings, and other works are on his website: danperkins.guru.