California Attorney General Rob Bonta has issued a consumer alert warning Californians to exercise caution when purchasing direct-to-consumer hearing products, such as hearing aids, over the counter or online. With the growing popularity, availability and confusion about these products, the attorney general urged the public to educate themselves about their options, and consider whether a hearing aid sold online or over the counter, rather than prescribed by a doctor, will address their needs.
“Health care costs can add up, which is why many of us seek out more affordable options that make sense for our families,” Bonta said in a prepared statement. “While hearing aids sold online or over the counter may appear to be more cost-effective than traditional hearing aids, they may not properly address your particular hearing loss needs or may be outright scams. As you explore your options, know your rights, beware of false claims, and exercise caution if you choose to purchase from an unlicensed seller.”
As federal administrators draft proposed regulations for over-the-counter hearing aids, California law requires all hearing aid sellers, including online and over-the-counter sellers, to be licensed with the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board.
The news release said consumers should consider the following before purchasing an over-the-counter hearing aid from an online or over-the-counter seller:
• Get checked by a licensed hearing professional. Hearing loss may be caused by a variety of factors – from simple ear wax buildup to more serious complications. While online or app-based hearing tests may be convenient, they may fail to detect individualized or serious hearing loss issues. If you need a hearing aid, a licensed hearing professional, who is authorized to test your hearing, can prescribe one that is individualized to your needs or refer you to someone who can, including a licensed seller of over-the-counter devices. You should be aware that some over-the-counter devices are limited in their ability to fine-tune adjustments to your specific needs.
• Beware of misleading claims. Over-the-counter hearing aids are meant to treat mild to moderate hearing loss and may not be able to treat severe hearing loss. Hearing aids advertised as “FDA registered” are not necessarily “FDA approved.” “FDA registered” merely means the company has registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and does not mean that the FDA has reviewed or approved a specific product. The FDA recently issued cease and desist notices to companies advertising their products as “FDA registered.”
• Know your rights: If you are unhappy with your hearing aids, California law (Civil Code section 1793.02) allows you to return them within 45 days of receipt for a full refund or exchange without any additional fees. The seller must provide you with a written statement with this information and the date of expiration for the return period. If a seller offers a longer return period, they must honor it.
Audiologists and hearing aid dispensers are licensed by the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board. For more resources regarding hearing loss, to look up a license, or to file a complaint against a hearing aid dispenser, visit www.speechandhearing.ca.gov.
If you believe you have purchased an over-the-counter hearing aid from a business that misrepresented its claims, you can file a complaint at www.oag.ca.gov/report.