Can You Hear Me Now? - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Can You Hear Me Now?

It sounds good — and that’s the problem.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed legislation that would make it perfectly legal to buy hearing aids over the counter.

Great, right?

The thing is it is already legal to buy them.

Warren’s dishonestly titled bill — the Over The Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 — would regulate them.

Some clarification is necessary.

Currently, it is legal to buy some “hearing aids” — more accurately known as personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs — without a prescription. Over the counter, online — however.

For example, the speaker manufacturer, Bose, sells a product called HearPhones; there are many other such. These are used to enhance normal hearing — very much like TV’s Six Million Dollar Man used his bionic ear, to hear things people without normal hearing but not assisted hearing can’t hear or have trouble hearing.

PSAPs are also purchased as low-cost alternatives to hearing aids, which are strictly regulated by the FDA and which currently require a doctor’s prescription.

These often cost thousands of dollars.

People without thousands of dollars can currently buy PSAPs — available at stores like Wal-Mart for $20 or so — much in the same way that anyone can buy magnifying or reading glasses — which are likewise readily available at most supermarkets and drug stores without any bureaucratic middlemen or a doctor’s prescription.

No one seems to have a problem — yet — with people buying low-cost reading glasses on their own without government “help.”

The key point is these PSAPs, though sometimes used as an alternative to hearing aids, are not the same things as the hearing aids prescribed by a doctor. But Warren’s bill would treat them as such for regulatory purposes, granting the FDA sweeping new powers to micromanage their manufacture and sale — thereby increasing costs.

Low-cost PSAPs as an end-run around prescription hearing aids would go the way of the Dodo, leaving potentially millions of people who can afford a PSAP — but not a doctor-prescribed hearing aid — out in the cold.

Not surprisingly, Warren’s proposal is generating a tsunami of opposition from seniors, conservative lawmakers, and consumer groups, an indication that the  legislation — currently being considered in subcommittee and scheduled to be marked up this Thursday before going to the floor for a vote as soon as next week — is anything but designed to reduce the hassles and expenses imposed by Washington.

Twenty conservative opponents undersigned an open letter to Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stating that Warren “… wants to subject PSAPs to FDA regulation and explicitly lock states out of any role in the process and then designates these PSAPs as (being) ‘available over the counter,’ as if that were some big, new innovation — conveniently failing to mention that they are already available to anyone at thousands of stores.”

Just like low-cost reading glasses.

So, why?

As usual, because there’s money — and control — on the table.

The control part is obvious. Warren’s legislation would increase the authority of the FDA regulatory apparat and government busybodies generally. What was a simple go-to-the-store (or go online) and buy what you want thing would become a government-monitored and heavily regulated thing.

It’s worth noting that Warren is a huge backer of “single-payer” — that is 100 percent government-controlled — health care, with federal bureaucrats deciding how much care you’ll get, how you’ll get it, and — of course — how much you’ll pay for it.

At a recent rally in Boston with Vermont socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, she announced that single-payer “sure ought to be at the top of the list” (see here). She has been a fervent pusher of Obamacare, which despite all the promises made, has raised costs for most people and increased the bureaucratic hassle of getting insurance as well as care.

But the worst part of Warren’s “plan” is the crony capitalist part.

Some manufacturers of hearing assist devices actually want them to be regulated because it will give them the opportunity to charge more for them — in part because the federal government will have effectively outlawed the low-cost alternatives via regulatory fiat.

It’s analogous to the way federal “safety” mandates that require a car company to destroy a dozen or more new cars in crash tests to certify they meet arbitrary government bumper-impact standards make it economically difficult for small, start-up car companies to even try to compete with the established major car companies. A small, start-up company simply can’t afford to destroy a dozen new cars just to “certify” them to Uncle’s satisfaction.

Under Warren’s “plan,” the FDA would redefine what a PSAP is, imposing new standards on labeling and audio output, among other things. Those devices that do not meet the standard would become illegal to sell.

Reportedly, Apple, Bose, Samsung and Panasonic already have “Warren-compliant” devices in the pipeline. These and other tech companies are actively pushing the Warren legislation, which they see as a way to pad their profits.

It makes sense — because it will.

Can you think of anything the government regulates that doesn’t become more rather than less expensive? What will happen to the cost of PSAPs, when the Feds get involved? There is the very real possibility that the FDA will ultimately decide to regulate all hearing assist devices as “hearing aids” — perhaps even imposing a requirement that a doctor’s prescription is necessary prior to any purchase.

Meanwhile, you can buy a pair of reading glasses for less than $10 at almost any drug store or supermarket. Imagine what a pair of reading glasses would cost if they had to be government-approved; imagine what they would cost if you had to get a doctor’s nod before you could even try a pair on.

Not everyone can afford a doctor-approved hearing aid, and PSAPs provide them with an affordable alternative without affecting medically prescribed hearing aids.

Warren would take that alternative off the table — in the name of “helping” people.

It’s the same kind of “help” as telling a drowning man that he may only use a government-approved flotation device, even when a perfectly serviceable life jacket could be thrown to him.

Eric Peters
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