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Are Florida’s Hearing Aid Regulators Listening to the Call for Deregulation?

February 8, 2019 - 9:00am

Last week in Orlando, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis convened dozens of government officials who run Florida’s 23 professional licensing boards for what he called a “Deregathon” event to advance an agenda of “aggressive and appropriate deregulation.” The idea was for each government agency to discuss and recommend “regulations that can be targeted for immediate elimination.”

Getting rid of unnecessary regulations, especially occupational licensing requirements, is a laudable step in the direction of economic liberty. Licensing laws prevent people from entering a profession without government permission. Study after study has shown they are rarely about ensuring professional competence or consumer safety. Rather, existing businesses often lobby for strict licensing requirements to lock out competitors—costing consumers billions.

Little has been reported yet about what red tape the bureaucrats at the Deregathon have put on the chopping block, but the state’s outdated scheme for regulating the sale of hearing aids is one easy target.

Florida is the nation’s largest market for hearing aids, and among the most highly regulated. It is illegal to sell a hearing aid in the state without a burdensome Hearing Aid Specialists License.

The regulations also prohibit the sale of hearing aids until consumers undergo testing and fitting that is often no longer needed with the latest models. For instance, the FDA recently approved a new class of “self-fitting” hearing aids—technology that eliminates the need for consumers to consult with expensive specialists. But Florida’s regulations still require these hearing aids to be purchased from a licensed specialist who is required to do the unnecessary fitting as part of the sale. To further stifle competition, Florida’s rules also ban online and mail-order sales of hearing aids.

For the past year, a federal lawsuit has taken aim at these antiquated regulations. Plaintiff Dan Taylor was a licensed Hearing Aid Specialist for nearly 30 years, and for the past 15 years he owned a hearing aid store in downtown Melbourne. But he gave up his license and his livelihood a couple of years ago out of frustration that the state’s regulations were harming consumers and his business.

That made him a target of the state’s Hearing Aid Specialists Board, one of those 23 now tasked by the governor to eliminate needless regulations. They fined him for offering to sell a hearing aid without a license and have continued to investigate him, even threatening him with jail time.

The state’s regulated fitting procedures may have been state-of-the-art in the 1970s when Florida’s regulations were enacted, but they are no longer useful for many consumers. A recent federal study of hearing aid sales determined that today’s devices pose no meaningful health or safety risks.

In recent years, a bipartisan effort to relax federal regulations on hearing aids—led by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Charles Grassley among others—has been successful. In just a few years, it has paved the way for entrepreneurs to offer improved hearing aids to consumers and encouraged competition among sellers.

At the heart of Taylor’s lawsuit is the claim that Florida’s hearing aid sales regulations conflict with the federal laws. He is not seeking money from his lawsuit—just a court judgment that the state’s rules are unenforceable, allowing him and others like him to earn a living selling hearing aids, free of unreasonable government interference.

But in the spirit of DeSantis’ “Deregathon,” the Hearing Aid Specialists Board and the legislature could simply repeal Florida’s outdated hearing aid sales regulations today, making the court battle unnecessary. That would make good on the governor’s call to make “aggressive and appropriate deregulation a priority” for his administration—while being an even bigger win for the many Floridians who would benefit from greater access to these life-enhancing devices.

Larry Salzman is a senior attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, representing Dan Taylor in his lawsuit challenging Florida’s outdated hearing aid sales regulations.

Comments

Voted Blue - As expected, you LOVE paperwork, and worry more about Safety regulation. I got news - some schisters might try to get into an area about which they know NOTHING about. But guess what - word of mouth will put them out of business in a very short time, and lighten the load of useless paperwork. Reduce GOVERNMENT - and Democraps.

My spouse purschased new hearing aids which that did not need to be fitted. He purchased from a specialist office after going through all the required testing. They were $6200. He later found exact set for $3600 on the internet. The hearing aids were retuned this morning and we have to wait 30 days for refund after paying with debit card. The audiologist contacted him as to why he returned and he explained the cost difference. She quickly pointed out this is a misdemeanor in Florida. The law is a license to gouge and needs to be repealed.

Deregulation of consumer protections is the most onerous thing a true 'public servant' could ever espouse. it's an obvious absurdity and generates nothing but predatory behavior by the individuals or businesses involved. As it is, the 'hearing aid business' is in the same league as payday loans! Legalized rip-offs!

If, you would simply take the time to read Florida's hearing aid rules, and licensing regulations you could see clearly that not only do the vast majority have nothing to do with protecting the public, and everything to do with protecting the licensees from competition, while setting aside sweet, annual special interest tribute requirements to a National lobbying group, if you want to sponsor a new trainee. Dig a little deeper and you would find that the Chairwoman, and Her husband make the bulk of their income from selling license prep courses for the Board exam to the license that she is the Board over. A further bit of digging would reveal that the only true testing that might assure the achievement of audibility, real ear, or probe microphone testing is conspicuously absent from the required battery, while about an hour's worth of testing that has no, or very limited value in the fitting of a hearing aid is in fact required. Just a we bit more looking and you would discover further special interest set asides and an Administrative Law enforcement branch of our Attorney General's office who work in secret, have a blank check, and NO accountability to investigate, even the possibility of violation of any of these myriad worthless rules. Florida has one good hearing aid rule. The consumer gets to try their purchase for thirty days, and get most of their money back if not satisfied. My policy is to refund 100% if not satisfied, I don't have any consumer complaints, and the only one threatened by my activities are those licensees who look for protection from competition from the license that requires every licensee lie, cheat and steal from every consumer whom they serve, if they DO follow the Florida Board of Hearing Aid Specialists rules. So, before you lump all Audioprosthologists, or dispensers in with this corrupt Board, remember, I've put my entire practice on the line to take these folks to court on behalf of Consumers. In response, they are doing their best to both put me out of business via their rules, and keep the stink of the fetid rot associated with this Board, and its rules from ever coming to the public's attention. Whether they buy off this administration, and legislatures as in the past, remains to be seen, and I am cheering for Governor Desantis, but only time, and perhaps the Federal Courts will decide to end this corruption that costs Floridian's millions every year.

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