WASHINGTON – Liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is frequently framed as a bogeyman, ermm bogeylady, for the right. What’s less common is using the first-term Democrat to pressure Republicans to buckle on policy issues.
But that's exactly what a new television and digital ad airing in Georgia's 1st congressional district is looking to do for an under-the-radar fight over hearing aids.
The Virginia-based Frontiers of Freedom, a conservative nonprofit that lobbies for limited government and a strong national defense, is using the spot to push U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, to abandon a bipartisan effort that would essentially create an over-the-counter option for hearing aids. Warren is a cosponsor in the Senate.
"Warren and Carter have introduced hearing aid legislation that will eliminate states’ rights, expand the size and power of the federal government, resulting in higher prices for consumers," the ad's narrator states. "We expect these bait and switch liberal tactics from Elizabeth Warren, not Buddy Carter.”
Other opponents of the effort include hearing aid manufacturers and audiologists, who worry it will cut into their bottom line and lead to self-diagnosing, and a gun rights group that says Warren can't be trusted at all.
Carter is one of several Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to back the bill, along with the AARP, consumer tech groups, the Libertarian Niskanen Center and many Democrats. Carter called Frontiers of Freedom's criticism “truly baffling.”
“Opening up this closed market will increase competition to make hearing aids more affordable and accessible," he said.
A handful of manufacturers currently controls the vast majority of the world's market for hearing aids. Insurance to help handle the costs, which typically run thousands of dollars per earpiece, is often thin, which prompts roughly 80 percent of the 30 million people who suffer from hearing loss skip out, according to the AARP.
Carter said his bill would help break up the monopoly. "Patients should have access to hearing aids if they need them, and this is an important step to ensuring that happens," he said.
Frontiers of Freedom said it's sinking at least six figures into convincing voters in three congressional districts to urge their Republican representatives to abandon support for the effort, which has been attached to must-pass legislation to reauthorize the Food and Drug Administration. The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced the legislation Wednesday.