A Kids Book About: The Podcast

Hearing Aid Accessibility

Episode Summary

How does the new FDA ruling affect access to hearing aids? Sarah talks with audiologist Dr. Michelle Hu and mother Jessica Lewis about what this change means for those with hearing loss. This is a rebroadcast episode of Sarah Jones Breaks It Down.

Episode Notes

This is a rebroadcast episode of Sarah Jones Breaks It Down. Listen to more episodes HERE.

How does the new FDA ruling affect access to hearing aids? Sarah talks with audiologist Dr. Michelle Hu and mother Jessica Lewis about what this change means for those with hearing loss.  

Sources Consulted:

Aacap. (n.d.). Corporal punishment in schools. Retrieved August 30, 2022, from https://www.aacap.org/aacap/Policy_Statements/1988/Corporal_Punishment_in_Schools.aspx

Commissioner, O. of the. (n.d.). FDA finalizes historic rule enabling access to over-the-counter hearing aids for millions of Americans. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved August 30, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-finalizes-historic-rule-enabling-access-over-counter-hearing-aids-millions-americans

Gershoff, E. T., & Font, S. A. (2016). Corporal punishment in U.S. public schools: Prevalence, disparities in use, and status in state and federal policy. Social policy report. Retrieved August 30, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5766273/

Hollingsworth, H. (2022, August 26). Missouri School District reinstates spanking if parents OK. AP NEWS. Retrieved August 30, 2022, from https://apnews.com/article/education-school-boards-missouri-springfield-cassville-d3f3e3228be5a2209eb9761885795470 

* If you have a question about war, or if there’s something else going on in the world that you want us to break down, write to us or record a message and email us at listen@akidsco.com

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Episode Transcription

A Kids Book About: The Podcast

S2E21, Hearing Aid Accessibility


Matthew: Hey there, A Kids Book About listeners! 

Matthew, here. We’re off this week as I work on new episodes featuring big topics and big conversations for everyone. In the meantime, I thought we’d play an episode from another podcast from A Kids Co. 

Sarah Jones Breaks It Down is a weekly news podcast for kids and grownups who want to understand what’s happening around the world and why it’s happening now. On each episode, Sarah, an Emmy award-winning journalist, breaks down the news beyond the headlines, using interviews, conversations, and compelling stories to make news accessible, understandable, and relatable.

She’s broken down the war in Ukraine in an amazing 5-part series. She’s talked about mass shootings and how gun regulation can make schools safer. She did an exceptional episode on Indigenous sovereignty. And, all the while, she speaks with experts, scientists, parents, politicians, reporters. It’s amazing, hearing from these individuals first hand is something that I really value. 

And I also value that Sarah works hard to make sure she reports on topics that aren’t often talked about on the news, whether because the topics aren’t flashy enough or don’t involve as wide of a population. Sarah really understands that all voices matter and, in that way, I think that her show shares a lot in common with A Kids Book About: The Podcast. 

Today, I’m going to play a recent episode breaking down a new FDA ruling affecting hearing aid accessibility. You may know a classmate or family member who wears hearing aids. 

What you might not realize is that it’s often difficult for families to receive financial support to purchase these expensive, yet necessary hearing devices. Sarah talks to an audiologist as well as a mother and friend about what this federal change means for those with hearing loss.

Enjoy. And if you like the show, check out other episodes of Sarah Jones Breaks It Down wherever you find podcasts.


Sarah: This is Sarah Jones Breaks It Down. 

I’m Sarah,  and I’m here to help us better understand what’s happening in the world. 


Because, as a journalist, that’s my job. 

And this world isn’t just filled with adults…

Jonah: Nope!

Sarah: It’s our world. 

So, every week we’ll talk about the stories that you may overhear some adults talking about and we’ll… 

Group of Kids: Break it down.

Sarah: Break. It. Down.


Sarah: So, hearing aids. They can make this…

Sarah: This is Sarah Jones Breaks It Down.

Sarah: Sound more like this…

Sarah: This is Sarah Jones Breaks It Down.

Sarah: But insurance companies say they’re not a necessary medical device.

So that’s why there was such a frenzy over a recent announcement by the Food and Drug Administration, also known as the FDA. 

The FDA cleared the way Over the counter hearing aids may be available in traditional retail and drug stores as soon as mid-October. But experts say the media attention may have been a little overblown. 

Michelle Hu: I think it's a good step in the right direction, but I don't think it's worth the, oh my gosh, we have found a solution for all hearing loss, uh, all individuals with abnormal hearing levels in the United States.

Sarah: So let’s break it down.


Sarah: There’s a spectrum of hearing devices and each is tailored to an individual's needs and preferences. Some are even surgically placed. 

Dr Michele Hu wears a BTE hearing aid.

Michelle Hu: Which is one of the most common has a microphone on the top battery and computer goes behind the ear and the sound is channeled down through either an ear mode, tubing, or a wire, so that the amplifier or speaker is, um, pretty close to the eardrum.   So it just, uh, makes the sound louder at different frequencies. 

Sarah: The real art of BTE hearing aids or any other hearing devices comes in the personalization of each and every single device.

Michelle Hu: We, as audiologists, make a lot of different adjustments based on that person's specific. Hearing loss or different hearing levels. And it can vary between, uh, ear to ear even

Sarah: Jessica Lewis is a close friend of mine from college. She has two little boys who use hearing devices and she says none of it is cheap.

Jessica: With our first kid, when he was diagnosed with hearing loss, we insurance didn't cover it once we had to pay out of pocket for his hearing aids. Um, which I think at the time I'd have to ask my husband, but I'm pretty sure it was around $6,000 and he was like, and he was, you know, six weeks old. 

A couple years later we were living in Oregon, the insurance coverage changedAnd so if you were in state insurance, it would cover hearing aids, but that's not nationwide.

Sarah: And why didn't insurance cover? Like what was their reasoning 

Jessica: I'm like a fairly positive it's because they're considered cosmetic. Um, which is mind blowing if you think about it because it's a medical device,but like the majority of states don't cover them. 

Michelle Hu: What a lot of people don't know is that being deaf or hard of hearing can be a huge range in different levels. Same with vision, how, you know, if not path or fail, we do it more in decibels at what decibel level can I hear this pitch app? And that's how we evaluate and create an audiogram to show you where along the entire spectrum of sound.

Sarah: And just like each ear is unique and every fingerprint is unique, so are our choices for how we wish to communicate in our world. 

Michelle Hu: Most children with different types of hearing levels are born to parents who have normal hearing. 

As a family, when they find out that their child is deaf or hard of hearing, they need to figure out, okay, what do we, what do we want our family to look like in five years? How do we wanna communicate? Do we wanna choose to go with amplification? Do we wanna choose to only use ASL or some kind of visual language?  Do we wanna do some kind of hybrid of both?

And an audiologist or deaf hard of hearing mentor or teacher of the deaf, all of those people need to be in your village to help you raise this child, be successful at whatever they want to do, however they wanna do it. 

Sarah: So, state by state, most insurance companies do not cover hearing aids.

Michelle Hu: I don't think it's a cosmetic issue.

It's a medical necessity. If what they want to do is you have spoken language 

A lot of times children come to us with my child has speech delay. Why do I need to come for a hearing test? Well, I need to check out and tell you for sure on both ears that everything that's going into the ears is clear. Cause how can they take that? Convert it into good, clear speech if they, if they, if that's where the first challenge is?

Sarah: Jessica agrees. 

Jessica: It's not cosmetic because it, it allows my children to have access to sounds that they wouldn't otherwise hear. And a lot of those sounds also happen to be in speech. So like, if they're not hearing those sounds their speech wouldn't be developed appropriately. Their, their brains would those connections to make those sounds.

Um, so it is critical. They, um, and they like them, you know, they wear their hearing aids for like 12 hours a day. 

Sarah: So when the FDA said it was finalizing a “historic rule” enabling access of over the counter hearing aids to millions, many people were ecstatic. But unfortunately, a lot of news reporters seemed to miss some key information that was a few paragraphs down in the government’s press release. 

The FDA’s ruling applies to certain air conduction hearing aids for people 18 and up and it “establishes a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, enabling consumers with perceived mild to moderate hearing impairment to purchase hearing aids directly from stores or online retailers without the need for a medical exam, prescription, or a fitting adjustment by an audiologist.” 

The FDA says hearing aids that are intended for severe hearing impairment or anyone under 18 are to remain under prescription only.

But there are a couple realities we need to address. The first being, there’s a reason experts go to school to become audiologists.

Michelle Hu: So our cochlea is tonotopically organized. If you unravel it, it would be like keys on the piano from low pitches, all the way to high pitches. 

Someone who is getting a little bit older may lose some of those higher pitches. And someone else might be losing, you know, certain, certain decibels at a different pitch because they have, you know, a particular chain disarticulation like the bones are not connecting well with the, um, with the eardrum or the tympanic membrane. 

Every person has a different type of level, just like you have a different fingerprint on your right hand, different fingerprints on your left hand.

So, very  much an individual case-by-case basis, uh, with your hearing. 

Sarah: And an audiologist adjusts hearing devices the same way, say, an ophthalmologist adjusts your eyeglass or contact prescription for your eyes.

Michelle Hu: It's similar to the reading glasses or glasses that are available on the drugstore. And it could help, but it could potentially be dangerous as well. 

An air bud in your ear for an extended period of time… You could cause hearing loss within your own ears. 

What if these amplifiers are helping you, but not specifically. Or that are, they're not programmed specifically for your individual ears.

Sarah: Now the FDA does say this rule is “designed to assure the safety and effectiveness of OTC hearing aids.” 

The second reality we need to clarify….

Michelle Hu: Amplifiers and hearing aids have been available to people for decades. You can go to the hunting section in Walmart and find an amplifier.

Sarah: The FDA says it hopes making some hearing aids over the counter will help to drive the market price down by fostering innovation and competition in the hearing aid technology marketplace. 

So that will be something to watch. But there are some other ideas about how to help drive down the cost of hearing devices for consumers. 

Sarah: Would it be better if insurance covered it rather than putting out a one size fits all ?

Michelle Hu: A thousand percent. It would be better if there was more insurance coverage for the hearing aid brands and companies that already exist out there. 

Jessica: My dad wears hearing aids now and he's over 65. So it gets covered on Medicare and he can get a repair. They just like show up and drop them off. And, you know, I was like, wow, you know, he's getting thousands of dollars worth of technology for free because he's over 65. Um, but yet my kids will need these hearing devices, their whole life.


Sarah: So now you know a little bit more about what’s really going on with over the counter hearing aids, and what many media reports may miss.

But information is for everyone, and everyone matters…

Jonah: Everyone matters.

Chelsea: Everyone matters.

JT: Everyone matters.

Romy: Everyone matters.

Sarah: So let’s talk about something that’s going on in the world that isn’t getting as much attention but should be. 

The term journalists use for that type of story is “under-reported”, and news can be under-reported for lots of different reasons…

School is starting up again, and a small town in the US state of Missouri is bringing back a form of punishment that hasn’t been around in schools for at least a generation.

For the first time in over twenty years, Cassville School District is bringing back physical punishment for the kids of parents who opt in.

Physical punishment meant to inflict physical pain. It’s called corporal punishment. 

In schools it can range from spanking to paddling, which means using a kind of flat piece of wood.. 

And technically it’s still legal in the US. 

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school corporal punishment is constitutional, leaving the decision up to each state.

New Mexico became the most recent state to ban corporal punishment in public schools in 2011. But it still exists in Missouri and more than a dozen other states, most of them are located in the South.


Sarah: Thank you for listening and for breaking it down with me today and throughout this season. This is our tenth episode and marks the end of our first season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still reach out. 

If you have a question about the FDA, hearing aids or hearing loss, or if there’s something else going on in the world that you want us to break down, write to us or record a message and email us at listen@akidsco.com

Sarah Jones Breaks It Down is written and reported by me, Sarah Jones. You can learn more about me and my work or reach out to me directly at sarahjonesreports.com

Our show is edited and produced by Matthew Winner with help from Chad Michael Snavely and the team at Sound On Studios. Our executive producer is Jelani Memory. And this show was brought to you by A Kids Co.

Follow the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever podcasts are found.

And check out other podcasts made for kids just like you by visiting akidsco.com

Thank you for hanging out with me and stay curious!