What to know about buying hearing aids over the counter in Tampa Bay

Hearing aids are now available without a prescription. Here’s what Tampa Bay residents should know.
A patient holds her hearing aid as she visits Hear Again America for a checkup on Oct. 20, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
A patient holds her hearing aid as she visits Hear Again America for a checkup on Oct. 20, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. [ JOE RAEDLE | Getty Images North America ]
Published Oct. 18, 2022|Updated Oct. 19, 2022

Tampa Bay residents can now purchase hearing aids over the counter.

The landmark shift in the way people with mild to moderate hearing loss can receive care is due to a Food and Drug Administration decision in August, which cleared sales of the devices in retail stores without requiring someone to see a doctor first and obtain a prescription.

“This is a giant step for people,” Eloise Schwarz, a leader in the Hearing Loss Association of America’s Sun City Center chapter, said on Monday. “Just being willing to say, ‘I can’t hear’ is very difficult.”

Schwarz praised the approval of over-the-counter hearing aids as a “giant step” forward, but warned that buyers will need to do their research.

“The onus is on the purchaser,” she said. “They’ll have to figure out how to work with them, and if they can take them back for a different model. They should also understand that if they’ve never had hearing aids, it can take some time for your brain to get used to that.”

Here’s what people should know about the change:

Why is this important?

An estimated 3 million Floridians live with some form of hearing impairment, according to the Hearing Loss Association of Florida.

Nationwide, almost 30 million adults could benefit from hearing aid use.

But there’s a gap in care, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Fewer than one in three older adults who could be aided by hearing aids have ever used them.

You won’t need a prescription or medical exam

Many hearing aids can be costly, and historically, obtaining them required a medical exam, prescription and a fitting adjustment done by an audiologist.

While people can still choose to consult a doctor before buying hearing aids, this change is expected to make the devices more accessible and affordable to the broader public.

Who will benefit?

The change applies to devices made for people 18 or older with mild to moderate hearing loss.

This group can include individuals who have a hard time understanding words amid background conversation, need to turn up the TV or radio to a high volume, or frequently ask friends and family to repeat words or sentences.

How much will they cost?

Tampa Bay residents could see a major drop in how much they spend on hearing aids.

Traditional fee-for-service Medicare and most health insurers cover routine hearing tests, according to Kaiser Health News. But Medicare and most private insurers don’t cover the cost of hearing aids, although many private Medicare Advantage plans do, Kaiser reported.

Previously, health care costs accounted for a significant portion of what someone would pay to get a hearing aid. The devices themselves could cost thousands of dollars.

In contrast, over-the-counter hearing aids available now, such as those offered by companies like Lexie Hearing and HearGo X, are priced anywhere from $199 to $999.

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The White House estimates people with mild to moderate hearing loss could save up to $3,000 on a pair of hearing aids.

Where can I buy them?

Over-the-counter hearing aids will be available at retail stories across Tampa Bay, including CVS, Walgreens and Costco.

Large chains like Walmart are also offering hearing aids online, and in a news release, the company said it plans to offer them in stores next month.