CVS closes hearing centers. FDA to clear OTC sales of hearing aids

CVS Health is closing its roughly 30 hearing centers, as it experiments with new store formats and federal regulators write new rules that will allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter.

CVS spokeswoman Erin Pensa confirmed the closures to CNBC and 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. Hearing Health & Technology Matters first reported the news.

CVS is pivoting ahead of changes that could reshape the hearing aid market. Next year, the FDA will introduce regulations to allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter, 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, over-the-counter hearing devices in the near future, and new technology is emerging to enable self-serve hearing testing and care,” Pensa said.

Currently, people must undergo an exam by a licensed professional in order to buy hearing aids. Congress in 2017 required the FDA to develop regulations for over-the-counter 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, though actually implementing them may take longer.

There are currently no FDA-approved hearing aid products that can be sold over the counter. The FDA in October approved Bose hearing aids that are self-fitting but are considered direct-to-consumer rather than over-the-counter, 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, Texas, Pensa said. Prices range from $40 to $500.

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