IOWA, USA — Jennifer Upah-Kyes celebrated her 50th birthday in 2022. She's used a hearing aid for 49 of them, but they come at a cost that quickly adds up.
According to her, the average pair of hearing aids costs between $5,000 and $7,000 which is often not covered by insurance.
Upah-Kyes is the executive director of Thrive Together, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing and have hearing loss.
"Some are forced to have cochlear Implants, some cannot secure a job to pay for hearing aids. For our agency, deaf survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assaults, the perp tends to take their aids away, damage them or break them. Survivors cannot afford to replace them and they are left without a way to hear," she said.
The FDA announced a new rule Tuesday that will allow Americans to buy hearing aids over-the-counter.
The decision allows people with mild to moderate hearing loss to buy a hearing aid at pharmacies or retail stores without the need for a medical exam or fitting from an audiologist.
Nearly 29 million U.S. adults would benefit from hearing aids, but only about 14% of Americans with hearing loss actually use them, according to the Hearing Health Foundation. And that's not just counting people who are born needing them, either.
"It’s widespread," Upah-Kyes said. "Think of elders, military vets, in addition to deaf and hard of hearing babies, youth and adults across the nation. Other counties with less opportunities cannot afford them, let alone get them."
Upah-Kyes told Local 5 she hopes the decision today will help bring down prices for people with hearing loss across the country. But just making them more affordable and accessible is only half the battle.
"With any type of technology, people try to find ways to make the cell phone or microphone better, or a lighter laptop, or any audio louder. We should try to find alternative ways to purchase hearing aids, make them louder and so forth," she said.
The FDA ruling takes effect 60 days after being published; that means that the expanded hearing aid sales should be available in mid-October.