Inflation Hits Healthcare; Hearing Aids are Deregulated

The cost of medical care services is now up 6.5 percent from last September.

The recently released Consumer Price Index, or CPI, did not exactly come bearing good news; overall, inflation remained consistent throughout the summer season, and there’s really no end in sight. 

The overall annual inflation rate is 8.2 percent, one of the highest such rates in the last 30 years. As part of that rate, the Federal Reserve examines what they call the “medical care” category, which includes both medical care services and medical care commodities. Medical care services include things like physician and hospital services and health insurance, while commodities include drugs and medical equipment.

As previously reported, we had not seen inflation in the healthcare industry that we saw in other sectors this year, because in the healthcare industry, prices are often set well in advance. 

However, it seems that the industry has finally caught up with the rest of the country, with the cost of medical care services now up 6.5 percent from last September. With this news just barely hitting the headlines, the Biden Administration enthusiastically announced the successful launch of an initiative they hoped would help consumers in both medical services and medical commodities, in one fell swoop: selling hearing aids over the counter.

Following an Executive Order issued about a year ago, the Biden Administration announced last week that hearing aids will be available without a prescription – or even a doctor’s exam! The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that this could lower the costs of a pair of hearing aids by $3,000.

This would impact nearly 30 million Americans, about a third of whom are senior citizens experiencing the rising costs of medical care while remaining on a fixed income. Notably, hearing aids are not covered by Medicare or many private insurance companies.

Many nationwide retailers welcomed the new opportunity to sell hearing aids directly to consumers, including Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and even Best Buy. These vendors have already announced their products and estimated prices, and according to their reports, consumers will be saving thousands. Walmart, for example, has stated that their products will range from $199 to $999; that’s compared to prescription-only hearing aids, which are priced at $4,500 and up.

One of the reasons the sale of hearing aids over the counter has been so celebrated is because it will expand access to those with disabilities or without access to regular transportation or paid time off. Getting properly fitted with prescription aids often required multiple visits and regular follow-up appointments in the past, not to mention the potentially prohibitive costs of the aids themselves, leading many to simply go without. 

The average person with hearing loss has traditionally waited five to seven years between suspecting hearing loss and getting treatment, so being able to pick up hearing aids while you’re out doing your weekly shopping could potentially shorten or outright eliminate that gap.

This move is just one of many we’ve been seeing since the COVID-19 pandemic began indicating a shift in how we access and consume our healthcare. Supporters of the hearing aid initiative have pointed to the increasing role of telehealth as evidence that Americans are becoming increasingly more comfortable with both home health and taking a more active role in their own healthcare. 

So, with rising medical care costs and demand for many services still below pre-pandemic levels, this could be a taste of what’s to come in an effort to keep patients engaged in the healthcare system.


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