On April 18, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission hosted a workshop to examine competition, innovation, and consumer protection issues raised by hearing health and technology, especially hearing aids.
30 million or more Americans suffer from hearing loss; and this number is growing, due to the prevalence of age-related hearing loss and the aging of the population. Hearing loss is a complex medical condition. Available treatments – including the use of hearing aids – mostly aim to ameliorate the symptoms and improve everyday function rather than cure its underlying causes, and may work better for some consumers than others.
Health and science authorities observe that many more consumers could benefit from hearing health care devices and related services, but do not take advantage of this option. For example, a recent report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine estimates that “67 to 86 percent of adults who may benefit from hearing aids do not use them.” The price of hearing aids and related services is widely cited as a primary impediment to access.
The FTC’s workshop brought together researchers, health care providers, industry representatives, consumer representatives, policymakers, and others to examine ways in which enhanced competition and innovation might increase the availability and adoption of hearing aids by those consumers who need them. In addition, the workshop examined how to balance consumer health and safety issues with consumer interests in greater competition and innovation, and ensure consumers have access to truthful and non-misleading information about hearing health products and services.
Topics of discussion at the daylong event included:
- Consumer Information and Search Costs
- Innovation in Hearing Technology and Treatment
- Innovation in Hearing Health Care Delivery
- The Benefits and Costs of Regulation
To aid our analysis of these issues and various policy proposals intended to address them, the staff of the Federal Trade Commission seek public comment from interested parties. In particular, we invite comment on the following questions:
- What information about hearing technology and related health care services is available to consumers who may be shopping for these goods and services? How useful do they find this information?
- How are hearing aids and other forms of hearing technology commonly distributed and sold? To what extent are new sellers of hearing devices, as well as new methods of distribution and sales, affecting the range of goods, services, and prices available to consumers?
- How are innovations in hearing technology – including hearing aids, personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), and other devices and platforms – changing the competitive landscape and expanding the range of viable options to ameliorate hearing loss? What other innovations and developments are on the horizon?
- To what extent are hearing aids, PSAPs, or “hearables” interoperable with different adjustment or programming tools, as well as other technologies and communications systems? What standard setting efforts are underway and how might standard setting further competition and innovation (or fail to do so)?
- To what extent might existing federal and state regulations be modified or streamlined to better accommodate new technologies and business models, consistent with promoting competition and innovation while meeting legitimate consumer protection objectives?
FTC staff welcomes comment on these and related questions and issues. The process for submitting comments is explained below.
Attending the Workshop
The workshop was free and open to the public.
Pre-registration is not required to attend this event, but is strongly encouraged. Please bring a valid government issued photo ID (government badge, license, passport, etc.). The security processing will include a metal detector and X-ray screening of all hand carried items.
Public Comment Period
The FTC will be accepting public comments through May 18, 2017, one month after the workshop. If you would like your comment to be considered for workshop planning purposes, please submit it by April 1, 2017. To submit a comment, visit this link: https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/hearinghealthtechworkshop. You may also read the comments already received.
If you have a question about the workshop, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.