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Report: CVS Pharmacy closing hearing centers ahead of OTC hearing aid rule

BY Sandra Levy

CVS Health is closing its roughly 30 hearing centers, ahead of federal regulators’ forthcoming rules that will allow hearing aids to be sold over-the-counter, according to a report from CNBC. A company spokesperson said the company made the decision to close the centers because the hearing-care market has evolved since CVS started piloting audiology services in 2015.

Next year, the FDA will introduce regulations to allow hearing aids to be sold OTC, eliminating the need for CVS to dedicate space in stores for audiologists to conduct hearing tests and fit people for the devices.
The company is experimenting with new store formats as its core drugstore business faces pressure from online companies such as Amazon. It’s piloting HealthHUBs, which offer more health services, such as blood pressure testing and yoga classes.

“The FDA is preparing to approve lower-cost, OTC hearing devices in the near future, and new technology is emerging to enable self-serve hearing testing and care,” the spokesperson told CNBC.

Currently, people must undergo an exam by a licensed professional in order to buy hearing aids. In 2017 Congress required the FDA to develop regulations for OTC hearing aids in a bid to make them more affordable and thereby more accessible.

The law requires the FDA to draft its regulations by 2020, although actually implementing them may take longer.

There are currently no FDA-approved hearing aid products that can be sold OTC. The FDA in October approved Bose hearing aids that are self-fitting but are considered direct-to-consumer rather than OTC, meaning they are subject to federal and state regulations dictating how they can be sold.

Amplifiers are not subject to the same requirements, meaning they can be purchased in stores. CVS sells eight of these products at its HealthHUB stores in Houston, the report said. Prices range from $40 to $500.

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