Two conservative groups have launched campaigns attacking bipartisan legislation authored by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren that would create over-the-counter hearing aids, although backers of the bill say the ideological opposition to it is groundless.
Frontiers for Freedom targeted the ads against conservative Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Michael Burgess and Buddy Carter over their support for Warren’s legislation, which would instruct the FDA to create a new category of regulated hearing aids to be sold without a doctor’s authorization.
Warren’s bill would “eliminate states’ rights, expand the size and power of the federal government, resulting in higher prices for consumers,” according to the Frontiers for Freedom ads. The Consumer Technology Association, which supports the bill, says the bill does none of those things.
The conservative opposition to the bill demonstrates how even the most innocuous congressional efforts can become enmeshed in a polarized political climate.
Supporters on both sides of the aisle back the bill as a measure to help Americans save money. It would enable more people to get access to cheap hearing aids costing in the range of a few hundred dollars; prescribed devices currently cost upward of $2,500.
The National Rifle Association also opposes the bill, claiming it would hurt hunters who purchase devices that help them hear better while hunting. There is no evidence of such an impact, according to the bill’s supporters.
The Frontiers for Freedom ads were broadcast and ran online last week in the members’ home districts. Frontiers for Freedom President George Landrith declined to say how much was spent on the ads, but he said it was six figures and closer to $100,000.
Landrith said the bill is “disingenuous” because devices that help people hear better are already available over the counter. They just can’t be marketed as “hearing aids,” which the bill would allow.
He denied that conservatives are opposing the bill simply because it was co-sponsored by liberal Warren, but acknowledged that the Massachusetts Democrat provides a good foil for the attack.
Landrith called Blackburn, Carter and Burgess “pretty good members of Congress” who were “snookered” by the title of the bill.
Warren’s bill was added to broader legislation giving the FDA power to collect user fees for new product reviews that passed key House and Senate committees already.
Hearing aid manufacturers oppose the bill because they want over-the-counter hearing aids to get more oversight and believe the devices should be marketed only to customers with mild hearing loss. The bill also covers moderate hearing loss.
Warren’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.