What Injured Worker Access to Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids Means for You

4 months ago

What Injured Worker Access to Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids Means for You

In October 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a rule to establish a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. This rule is tied to the implementation of legislation passed back in 2017 that allows the new category of hearing aids to be sold direct to individuals – without a medical exam or fitting by an audiologist. The rule aims to increase access, innovation, and competition by lowering the barrier to entry for new manufacturers and creating a larger marketplace for these devices.

Some OTC hearing aids are available today - and usually cost significantly less than prescription-based hearing aids. More choices and lower costs mean easier access to these devices for those with hearing issues. According to the FDA, 15 percent of Americans, roughly 37.5 million people over the age of 18, report some trouble hearing; however, only one-fifth who would benefit from a hearing aid use one.

Challenges for Workers’ Compensation

While the intent of the new regulation is positive, it’s not without challenges for the workers’ compensation industry. To successfully incorporate non-prescription devices into our medical device offerings, it’s important that payers and injured workers understand the difference between prescription and OTC hearing aids and what it means for them.

  • Lack of medical oversight
    The workers’ compensation industry has always required a medical exam to identify on-the-job hearing loss and prescribed hearing aids covered by the insurer. This new regulation may encourage injured workers to self-diagnose instead of visiting a doctor, purchasing a hearing aid when it may not be the most suitable option for their needs.
  • Reimbursement confusion
    If an injured worker doesn’t go to a physician to get diagnosed, it will be difficult to directly correlate hearing loss to a workplace incident. Without a prescription from a doctor, insurer reimbursement of an OTC hearing aid will be unlikely.

What’s Next

As more OTC hearing aids become available in the marketplace, I encourage all of us to approach this change with an open mind, carefully considering how this new regulation should impact our current processes to better serve injured workers. In a stressful, busy world, we all want more convenient, cost-effective healthcare options made available … OTC hearing aids will certainly not be the last.

Let’s make sure we continue to strive for innovation in our industry, removing barriers whenever possible so injured workers with hearing loss can take full advantage of these new, more accessible options.

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This article originally appeared in WorkCompWire.

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