A Washington, D.C. based conservative non profit launched a six-figure ad campaign Tuesday criticizing three GOP House members for supporting Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s over-the-counter hearing aid legislation.
Frontiers of Freedom’s ads, which will run in three Republican districts on TV and online, criticize GOP House Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Michael Burgess of Texas and Earl Carter of Georgia for supporting House legislation that serves as a companion to the Senate bill.
The ads attack the congressmen for cooperating with the “liberal Massachusetts Senator” in her ploy to “eliminate states rights, expand the size and power of the federal government resulting in higher prices for consumers.”
Warren’s bill and the accompanying House legislation would create a new regulatory category for over-the-counter hearing aids. The bill’s proponents have argued the legislation would provide low-income, hearing impaired Americans with access to affordable hearing aids without the cost attached to prescription models. These over-the-counter hearing aids could be advertised to treat mild to moderate hearing loss, provided they meet yet to be determined FDA regulations.
“Allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter will help bring down costs and expand consumer choices so that millions more Americans can find affordable hearing aids,” Warren said in a press statement. “This bill will loosen up outdated regulations and, with the right protections in place, let the market bring great products to Massachusetts residents at far lower costs.”
Conservative opponents of the bill have pointed out that over-the-counter hearing aids are already available in stores like Best Buy and Walmart. Regulations prohibit retailers from referring to sound amplification devices sold over the counter as hearing aids, since those are regulated by the FDA and can only be prescribed by a doctor. These devices, however, are already sold all over the country under the name personal sound amplification products (PSAPS).
PSAPS are advertised for use in activities like bird watching and hunting and cost as little as $20, unlike prescription hearing aids, which cost thousands.
Opponents of the bill argue Warren and GOP Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who cosponsored the bill but was not named in the attack ads, are trying to expand government regulation all under the guise of helping the consumer. Opponents have also pointed out that the proposed legislation would be a huge win for large technology companies like Bose, which is headquartered in Warren’s home state.
President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom George Landrith criticized the bill as corporate rent seeking ploy in an op-ed on the Frontiers of Freedom website.
“It appears that Sen. Warren is working at the behest of big corporations who feel they could make more money selling PSAPs if they were regulated because that would make them seem more “big time” and “high tech” and make them seen more like medical hearing aids. That would allow them to charge more and give them new marketing material,” Landrith wrote.
The legislation has the potential to drive smaller companies, which would have more difficulty complying with federal regulations, out of the PSAP market, leaving a vacuum that would almost certainly be filled by huge corporations like Bose.
Bose already offers a high end amplification device referred to as hearphones, which cost $499. Lobbying disclosures lend support for this theory as they show Bose spent $50,000 lobbying in support of Warren’s bill.
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