At the center of a battle over excessive government regulation is an unlikely source — hearing aids.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a handful of Republicans are crafting a Senate bill to create an over-the-counter category of hearing aids known as personal sound amplification products (PSAPs).
The hearing aid industry has come out strongly against the “Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act,” but further opposition has emerged from another unexpected coalition — Tea Party-aligned organizations such as Frontiers of Freedom, Conservative Leadership PAC, 60 Plus Association, Tea Party Nation and the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.
A letter Friday to U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, signed by more than a dozen conservative groups, denounces this attempt at new government regulation, stating PSAPs simply amplify sound and are not medical hearing aids and should not be regulated as such.
Among the reasons the group chose Bilirakis to garner support for their cause — he has a personal stake. As one of the estimated 30 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss, the Tarpon Springs Republican relies on a hearing aid.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates the sale of all hearing aids. A doctor must prescribe the device, and custom hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars.
Supporters of the Act believe it will help make hearing aids more affordable by allowing over-the-counter sales. They say the bill will lower prices, spur innovation, and help people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss get devices to improve quality of life.
Not so, says the coalition; designating PSAPs as “over-the-counter” is misleading and unnecessary regulation. They argue PSAPs are unlike medical hearing aids in that they are designed specifically for people who have a medically measurable hearing loss. Medical hearing aids require a doctor to decide the degree of hearing loss and what is the most proper way to correct the problem.
“All hearing loss isn’t the same,” the letter says. “Doctors play an appropriate role in helping the patient find and tailor the right solution. These medical hearing aids are not used for snooping or songbird listening. They are specifically tailored to the patient.
“Warren wants to subject PSAPs to FDA regulation and explicitly lock states out of any role in the process, and then designate these PSAPs as available ‘over-the-counter’ as if that were some big, new innovation — conveniently failing to mention that they are already available to anyone at thousands of stores.
“Sadly, Sen. Warren’s bill will do nothing to give consumers and patients greater access or lower prices. And it certainly won’t lead to more innovation. A new layer of regulation is not a stimulator of innovation — it squashes innovation. What it will do is empower federal bureaucrats and lead to poorer health care by eliminating the doctor-patient relationship in finding the right hearing aid and tailoring it to the patient’s needs. Without a doctor’s input, serious hearing problems can go undiagnosed and if untreated, options and hearing can be forever lost without hope of recovery.”
The letter concludes with a call for Bilirakis to oppose the Act “in the best interests of Americans who want inexpensive and effective personal sound amplification products for their hobbies and personal interests.”