Practical Approaches to Hearing Aid Prices

Practical Approaches to Hearing Aid Prices

Editor: Think hearing aids cost too much? Think they should be covered by insurance? How about tax credits? Charlea Baker’s article touches on these and other topics related to the cost of hearing aids. You can contact Charlea at dkayak@vermontel.net.

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I wear hearing aids. What makes this particularly frustrating for me, is that in the course of my job, I am able to see what audiologists actually pay for the instruments. Naturally they have to charge their overhead costs and consultation time, but the mark up that has been encouraged by the industry and marketing is astronomical. And unfortunately, it leads to many many of us with hearing loss to do without and to continue to live with hardship and isolation, simply because even basic instruments are priced out of reach. I feel that there is a “feeding frenzy” going on in the industry regarding hearing aid pricing. There are several practical approaches that could shift the balance more in our favor:

#1 “Knowledge is Power”.

Many years ago legislation was passed that protected the saavy automotive consumer from wildly inflated and fanciful pricing on cars. Sure, today I can walk into any car dealership and they will show me the sticker price. But, I know I can be in a much stronger bargaining position and save a ton of money by asking for the dealer’s invoice on that particular car and understand just exactly the amount I am willing to agree on for extras, and the dealer’s (deserved) profit margin. I have found that Dealers sometimes initially pretend I do not know what I am asking for, but when pressed they do provide the document to me as they are required to do by law. We need that kind of consumer protection law for hearing aids too.

We need transparency. The industry has found that “batching” the costs lets them pad sometimes thousands of dollars per customer onto the cost of the instruments. Now, I adore my audiologist and find her very knowledgeable, but I do not think she gives me thousands of dollars worth of information and consultation. I have seen audiological practices list prices generically: 2 Digital BTE’s = $4,000 2 Digital ITE’s = $5,000 2 Digital CIC’s = $6,000

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This works awesomely in their favor and against ours. For example a Digital BTE can range in price (their invoice) anywhere from $300@ to $1,700 depending on the model, and brand. Now if a basic digital hearing aid is what my audiologist and I decide will work for my hearing loss ($600 for two), I sure want to know if I am being asked to pay $3,400 in “consulting fees”. Multiply that by how many customers?

Another issue is, (and again I go back to the automotive analogy) if I walk into a car dealership the salesperson will be sure to lead me to the fanciest priciest model first, and then gradually (with great persuation from me) work his way down to a model more in line with my needs and my budget. As consumers we have been too easily taken in by the “dazzle” of techno-gizmos that promise “near normal hearing” but may have limited actual audiological benefit in our real everyday lives. We are pressured to “pay top dollar to get top hearing”. Not necessarily so, but our wallets and family budgets will sure hurt for a long time. It is true that the latest “rocket science techno enhanced” car can get me to work (and the poor house). But my little economical Corolla (and my basic model hearing aids) do the job just fine. We need to feel okay about practical choices and not feel that we MUST pay for whatever has most recently rolled out of the Experimental Lab. We are paying through the nose to be their guinea pigs and test out their latest products.

#2 Disconnect Consultation from Sales.

We need to be able to get a better understanding of our own particular hearing losses and the potential gains of various hearing aid features from people who are not invested in selling to us. I do NOT ask the Car Dealer to make me educated about cars. I go to knowledgeable friends, the Library and Consumer Reports. We need to separate the audiologist’s evaluation, consultation and fitting services from where we actually purchase the instrument from. (Imagine the price competition if I can order that $900 BTE for $450 somewhere else? And if this audiologist charges $1000 for his services, but another down the street charges $500?) Yes, audiologist time, and expertise is worth money, but even the most exclusive Medical Specialists, Cardiologists, Brain Surgeons et al, do not charge anywhere near this much. What is worse, few audiologists even take the time to discuss other adaptive equipment, listening strategies or other information resources. What are we actually getting for that huge fee?

#3 Durable Medical Equipment Coverage (just like everyone else).

I think the real reason insurance companies are so reluctant to pay for hearing aids is that they know full well that the market price is outrageously bloated and THEY don’t want to be on the hook for it. (Who can blame them?) That leaves us hard of hearing folks stuck. I think if we can shed some bright light and sunshine on the hidden world of hearing aid prices and pressure the industry into a more reasonable price alignment, we stand a much better chance of our Advocacy being successful and getting insurance coverage for hearing aids, just like there is for glasses and wheelchairs etc.

#4 Tax Credits.

Anyone with a disability should get some tax credit to help defray the costs encountered when paying for the equipment we need to function in our lives and communities. In a Country that can manage to provide tax breaks for Corporations (hearing industry included???), and the upper 1% of the economic ladder, it is not too much to ask for some form of tax break for our disability related expenses.

#5 EVERYONE deserves to hear.

Hearing aid prices have gotten WAY out of hand. We need to stop playing passive victim to predatory industry practices. It is not Research and Development that is driving the price, it is what the industry feels “the market” will bear. They would rather sell a few hearing aids at exorbitant prices than many at a reasonable attainable price. If only $50,000 cars were offered on the market, I believe the vast majority of us would be walking. There is a human cost for this type of marketing philosphy. It hurts too many of us, and leaves many of us completely out of the mainstream. It is time to take back the power and control over our hearing (and fiscal) health and wellbeing. Everybody wins (us, our families, our employers and our friends) when we can hear better and fully participate without going unnecessarily broke.