Suspecting the high price of hearing aid devices to be the cause of a low rate of ownership in France, the French Competition Authority (the "FCA") conducted last year a broad market survey and public consultation to define any competition-related issues. See https://www.bryancave.com/fr/thought-leadership/eu-competition-law-update.html#hearing.
In light of its investigation, the FCA has identified two main competition issues. First, the FCA considered that the frequent linking of sales of hearing aids with related services prevents patients from freely choosing between the various offers, and as such, obliges them to pay immediately for services (e.g., fitting, follow-up and inspection) which will be provided only over several years. Second, the FCA identified another issue related to the limited number of hearing aid specialists, who are license- based on a national quota which impedes the supply of services and restricts the hiring of qualified personnel by new market players.
On 14 December 2016, the FCA published its official recommendations aimed at ensuring quality of care and customer satisfaction.
First, in order to stop the "entrance fee" observed, the FCA recommended separating the initial purchase of the hearing aid (including device and initial fitting and services during the first year) from the purchase of subsequent follow-up services provided in subsequent years. This separation should enable patients to better compare the different services required for their needs.
On this point, however, certain professionals had expressed the view that separate services would lead to health risks due to non-use or improper use of hearing aids or the lack of regular inspections. Nevertheless, the main health risk was characterized by the FCA as the paucity of hearing aid sales particularly in light of the finding that millions of patients currently lack a needed hearing device. Moreover, the FCA considered that the risk of improper use may be resolved through public information campaigns and systematic reminders aimed at educating patients as to proper use of the hearing aid and an appropriate follow-up. Finally, the FCA noted that introducing a system of medical records could be useful to enhance and ensure a better patient follow-up care, and in particular for patients moving to a different area or even for those who change their hearing aid specialist.
Second, the FCA also recommended to remove or increase the quotas used to determine the number of hearing aid specialists trained each year in order to allow the new entrants to expand their networks across France. This stimulation of competition should also facilitate access to hearing aids for patients due to a decrease in prices resulting from the additional supply.