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Elizabeth Warren's Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Bill Tries to Sell More Regulation As Less Regulation

And her conservative opponents are doing the exact same thing.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenEdward Kimmel / FlickrSen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass) a deregulator?

It almost sounds too good to be true. The progressive Democrat, historically hostile to free markets, teams up with Republican Sen. Charles Grassley (R–Iowa) to propose that stores be allowed to sell hearing aids over-the-counter.

And, of course, it's not true. Far from stripping away regulation to make it simpler and cheaper for people to care for their hearing needs, the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 loads on regulation that would, if passed, likely drive low-cost alternatives to hearing aids out of the market.

To make matters worse, this regulatory and crony sleight of hand is bipartisan.

To understand how this could be requires understanding a little bit about hearing aid regulation.

All devices sold as hearing aids in the U.S. are regulated through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They require a prescription from a doctor. They are sold by only a handful of companies, and can cost thousands of dollars.

Because of this there exists a thriving market in Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs), which perform the same basic function as prescription hearing aids—amplifying sound for the user—but are available for as little as $20 at Wal-Mart or less on the Internet.

PSAP makers, however, are not permitted to market their products as solutions or even an aid to diagnosed symptoms of hearing loss. The FDA list of specific marketing no-nos includes helping a customer hear conversations in a crowded room, or follow movie dialogue.

To get around this, companies often brand their products as hunting or bird watching aids, helping to pick up natural sounds.

Website reviews for the low-cost aids substitute for the ads. "I purchased these for myself as I cannot afford expensive hearing aids," a Wal-Mart website review reads. "They are good for the money you pay. They amplify and I do not have to ask my friends to repeat everything."

The Warren and Grassley bill, introduced in March of this year, would create a whole new regulatory class of devices called Over the Counter (OTC) hearing aids. These OCT hearing aids could be marketed as a means of assisting with mild to moderate hearing loss, provided they meet yet-to-be determined FDA standards on safety, labeling, and audio output.

Crucially, Warren's legislation instructs the Department of Health and Human Services secretary to redefine what a PSAP is, with the goal of shifting more PSAPs into this new, more regulated OCT hearing aid category.

At minimum, regulation would drive up the cost of PSAPs. And depending on how onerous those new regulations are, many devices would fail to meet the new standards.

To no one's surprise, makers of high-end PSAPs have been lobbying hard for the bill. TechCrunch reports that Doppler Labs—a tech start up that produces a $300 PSAP known as Here One—has been working closely with Warren.

Doppler also hired KR Liu—a member of the Consumer Technology Association's standards committee on PSAPs—to be its director of advocacy and accessibility in 2015. The Consumer Technology Association has since endorsed and promoted passage of Warren's bill.

Bose—maker of the PSAP the $499 "Hearphones"—has spent roughly $50,000 on lobbying for the OTC Hearing Aid Act this year, according to lobbying disclosures. Records from 2016 also show Bose spending $100,000 lobbying on "issues related to the FDA," though no specific legislation is listed.

On Monday, a coalition of some 20 conservative and business groups—including the Campaign for Liberty, the Black Chamber of Commerce, and Tea Party Nation—penned a letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Committee that is currently considering Warren's bill, warning him of its potential impact.

"Sen. Warren's bill will do nothing to give consumers greater access, or lower prices," the letter warns, going on to call the OTC Hearing Aid Act "another big government ploy to create more regulations and aid corporate rent seekers."

While opposed to Warren's bill, the coalition behind the letter is not all that keen on deregulation, either. The letter goes out of its way to say, "PSAPs are not medical devices, and don't need to be regulated like medical devices." It adds that OTC hearing aids would "lead to poorer health outcomes by eliminating the doctor-patient relationship in finding the right hearing aid and tailoring it to the patient's needs."

In other words, the coalition is opposed to lifting marketing restrictions on PSAPs, the only deregulatory aspect of Warren's bill, echoing the sentiments of the Hearing Industries Association. The bill, the association said in a March statement, might even encourage people to engage in self-directed treatment.

Instead, the association recommends PSAPs "meet the same safety and efficacy standards that FDA requires of air-conduction hearing aids fitted by hearing health professionals," the same standard as multi-thousand-dollar prescription hearing aids.

To date, the fight over the bill, which has yet to get a hearing, is one of deeply entrenched corporate interests eagerly appropriating the language of deregulation for market share. The bipartisan bill favors high-end PSAP manufacturers at the expense of low-end PSAPs.

The debate, unfortunately, is profoundly deaf to consumers.

Photo Credit: Edward Kimmel / Flickr

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    "War is peace.
    Freedom is slavery.
    Ignorance is strength."
    ― George Orwell, 1984

  • Chipper Mourning Somali Roadz||

    Photo caption:
    "And that wigwam over there was destroyed in a storm and had to be covered with a tarp. It was there, as a little girl, shivering under that tarp, that I told myself that one day, it would be ME that would oversee the biggest TARP in the entire world."

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."
    ― George Orwell, 1984

    On a Georgie Orwell kick today.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    Homage to Catalonia is second or third on my reading list right now. Considering a lot of antifa are romanticizing the anti-fascist movement in Spain these days, I'm anticipating a lot of very timely passages

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Christ, what an asshole.

  • Microaggressor||

    Warren is a hypocrite; poor people hardest hit. Seems to be a behavioral pattern.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Can I still buy a hollowed out horn?

  • Bob K||

    NO!! Those are made from animals and that is cruel. Even if you get a plastic one that is neon colored they still represent the slaughter of animals.

  • ssgcmw||

    Not to mention that plastic is made from oil and oil is evil!

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Because of this there exists a thriving market in Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs), which perform the same basic function as prescription hearing aids—amplifying sound for the user—but are available for as little as $20 at Wal-Mart or less on the Internet.

    "A thriving market you say? Providing an inexpensive alternative that consumers want and need? Gasp! We must stamp it out! Immediately!"

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The debate, unfortunately, is profoundly deaf to consumers.

    Boom. You've just been Britschgi'd.

  • Jerryskids||

    Just start selling the PSAP's as desk-top figurines with a big warning label not to use them as amplification devices.

  • BYODB||

    At a certain point, the warnings become an advertisement. I like your thinking on this one Jerry.

  • Chipper Mourning Somali Roadz||

    Too bad Q-tip has trademarked the "Do not insert in ear canal" catch phrase.

  • Brandybuck||

    Make them collectibles.

  • Shirley Knott||

    As long as Warren is in town, Trump will not be the slimiest nor most evil person in Washington.

  • Brian||

    Elizabeth Warren, Kyle's mom.

  • BYODB||

    So if I'm reading this right, than my gaming headset with a microphone that's sensitive enough to pick up background conversations and amplify them should be regulated by the FDA.


    I find it ludicrous that an electronic hearing aid would ever need a nod from the Food and Drug Administration. It's a piece of electronics that isn't inserted into the body at all. It's essentially just a glorified speaker/microphone that stick in your ear, for fucks sake. Why would anyone need a prescription for something that you could basically buy anywhere?


    No wonder the damn things can be a few thousand dollars. If anyone needed proof that government intervention and healthcare companies rent seeking is the problem, here you have a perfect example.

  • Brandybuck||

    It's a prescription so that insurance will cover it. It's part of that whole "keep your gub'ment mits off my Medicare!" thing.

  • BYODB||

    Yeah, I get that, and that's the reason for the stupidly high cost along with rent seeking from the manufacturer. There is no finer thing to lobby for than for your product to be picked up by insurance carriers. It's like a license to print money. Of course, if you go the EpiPen route that can come back around to bite you.

  • MarkLastname||

    Give it a few years and they'll be regulating clothing as pharmaceuticals.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Next they'll be coming after my OTC reading glasses, which they will pry out of my cold dead hands after they remove the pile of dead enforcers.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    ...the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 loads on regulation that would, if passed, likely drive low-cost alternatives to hearing aids out of the market.
    Ehh?
    What?

  • MarkLastname||

    Come again?

  • kevinq||

    said the dry cleaner to Monica Lewinsky

  • Spartacus||

    Look, if the FDA weren't regulating hearing aids, they could malfunction, and the harm to the wearer would be...uh,...hmmm. Something. Anyway, they must be potentially deadly or our benevolent overlords wouldn't be doing this. For our own good.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    That photo is just begging for alt-text. For shame!

  • Citizen X - #6||

    "Have you ever heard the FDA bureaucrat cry to the blue corn moon, or asked the grinning crony why she grins?"

  • Chipper Mourning Somali Roadz||

    That's a pretty good one. See mine above.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    A weird-yuppie-preppie city couple moved into the house down the road from me (dirt road; 20 acre lots; steep steep mostly; four feet of snow in the winter) and were so damned arrogant and ignorant. My neighbor caught them twice putting chains on the rear wheels of the front wheel drive car, pointed it out, they just stared at him like he was some stupid tourist speaking Greek. They treated everyone like ignorant country bumpkins, and they were the city slickers who we were too dumb to learn from.

    They gave themselves fake Indian names -- he was Deer who runs with Swallows chasing Ravens (we called him Lame Duck) and she was Sage Healing Wold (we called her Raving Bitch).

  • Chipper Mourning Somali Roadz||

    That's hilarious, except for the part where you had to put up with them. Perhaps they can change? What state are you in?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Jesus.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Raving Bitch...perilously close to trademark infringement. Chains on a front wheel drive car, that is rich.

  • ||

    you didn't hear that

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "All devices sold as hearing aids in the U.S. are regulated through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)"

    At this point let us all stop and ponder just how it came to be that a government agency called "food and drug" came to be in charge of so many things that are not, in fact, either a food or a drug.

    Like hearing aids - and the sales of individual genetic information.

  • SIV||

    Don't forget orgone accumulators and books!

  • Citizen X - #6||

    But, fortunately for you, NOT sex toys geared towards domestic fowl.

  • SIV||

    Don't forget orgone accumulators and books!

  • Glide||

    Well duh, they're not regulated through their Food branch or their Drug branch, it's through the Administration branch. It's the branch in charge of administrating shit.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    And there's a lot of shit that needs regulatin'. Business is a booming!

  • Crusty Juggler aka "Chad"||

    I'd regulate her devices, if you know what I mean.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    [vomits, cries]

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    I hope you mean sewing up all orifices.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    She makes a ton of sense as a bridge between Hillary and Bernie supporters, but does anyone outside of the Democratic party like her at all?

  • LibertarianScientist||

    While hearing aids are regulated by the FDA, a prescription is not required. You can sign a waiver and get around that requirement. Hence, the reason you can purchase them at Costco.

  • DanO.||

    Ugh, Fauxcahontas speaks with forks or something. Worse than Hitler she is. Outraged and, oddly, aroused I am!

  • J_Endo||

    I'm not an audiologist, but I've taken graduate courses in the field and I work in noise control. It is very reckless to skip the audiologist and self-medicate one's hearing loss. The audiologist fine tunes the setting of the digital hearing aid to maximize hearing performance, while minimizing future hearing loss. Just jacking up the amplitude of a signal without knowing what you are doing leads to more hearing loss as the hair cells on the basilar membrane get "overstimulated" and die. This is how a lot of hearing loss came about in the 1st place: people turning up the headphones, not wearing earplugs at rock concerts, not wearing adequate hearing protection while hunting or at the shooting range.

    If you don't know what a threshold of hearing curve is, or a loudness contour or what the hearing phenomena of "recruitment" is, you should use your Obamacare and visit an audiologist. Even if your insurance doesn't cover prescription hearing aids, the hearing professional can offer guidance so you don't burn out the rest of your hearing in the speech range. A cheaper solution isn't a good solution if it leads to further, accelerated hearing loss.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Right! So fuck the people that can't afford a few thousand dollars. But don't worry! We have a solution for that too! Well jack up to prove to the tends of thousands through cronyism and them require the gubmint pay all of it.

    Or, you could loosen the regs and let markets find ways to get this cheaper.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Price, not prove.

  • MichaelL||

    It seems that the "licensed" providers want to eliminate the competition. My dad paid thousands for his hearing aids, (a couple of times, now)! All he has is trouble with them! I see him every month, or so. It never fails that he is complaining about them not working properly. He has trouble having a normal conversation with me. I would benefit from the cheap things! I am not paying $5,000 for them!

  • CZmacure||

    Because of this there exists a thriving market in Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs), which perform the same basic function as prescription hearing aids—amplifying sound for the user—but are available for as little as $20 at Wal-Mart or less on the Internet.

    "A thriving market you say? Providing an inexpensive alternative that consumers want and need? Gasp! We must stamp it out! Immediately!"

    Sent from VidStory PRO Review

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