Why Are Hearing Aids So Expensive?
As Founder of the 32-year-old Oregon Association for Better Hearing (OABH) this question has been posed dozens of times during our monthly meetings.
When you look at the literature concerning hearing aid expense, several explanations for the high cost of hearing aids are put forth.
The first involves the evolution of technology. In all technological areas when a product is notably improved the price for such product increases. This has been true for hearing aids.
Today’s hearing aids have improved dramatically from hearing aids of the 1970s and 1980s which were completely nonadjustable. Today’s hearing aids have trillions of potential adjustments and can send wireless signals from an iPhone or television directly into the both hearing aids providing dramatically better speech understanding.
Additionally, by using a technology known as a real ear measurement, we can immediately determine if appropriate audibility of speech sounds is provided for the individual’s hearing loss. This real ear procedures is described in more detail in our 2017 Hearing Aid Buying Guide available at no charge to participants at OABH meetings.
An additional benefit to today’s hearing aids is something called active feedback suppression, whereby the hearing aid recognizes that it is about to squeal and notches the offending frequency before the squeal occurs. This allows people with severe hearing losses to use powerful hearing aids that are virtually free of squeal.
The second explanation for the high cost of hearing aids involves the fitting process. Based on Best Practice Recommendations of the American Academy of Audiology the hearing aid fitting process should involve programming the hearing aid to achieve well-researched mathematical targets, comparison of the individual’s speech understanding in noise in the unaided and aided condition to ascertain the hearing aid is providing benefit even in noisy environments and providing appropriate training in use of the hearing aid and all television/telephone modes in which it can operate. This time-consuming process increases the cost of hearing aids.
While one can appreciate the innovation that has increased hearing aid prices and recognize that appropriate Best Practices as noted by the American Academy of Audiology are beneficial, both of these first two variables increase the price of hearing aids.
The third reason for the high price of hearing aids is more negotiable.
It is known in the hearing healthcare industry that the Veterans Administration (VA) receives a 75% discount on today’s hearing aids relative to what many private practitioners pay for the same hearing aids due to the VA’s purchasing 20% of the hearing aids sold in this country. With such bulk purchasing power, the VA has considerable latitude in negotiating prices with hearing aid manufacturers.
Still, the other 80% of hearing aids provided in this country are provided by people outside the VA which gives this larger group of audiologists a greater potential for group purchase discounts.
Sadly, despite these larger numbers of non-VA audiologists, no one has thought to organize a large-scale group purchase option until recently.
In 2016 the group purchase option was identified by the Academy of Doctors of Audiology as one of their top five priorities. Unfortunately, soon thereafter the Academy abandoned this priority.
Not to be deterred OABH undertook a letter writing campaign urging the Academy to reconsider this important cost-saving issue.
Ron Leavitt, Au.D.
This information and more is available at our monthly OABH seminar which meets from 3:30 to 5:00 PM the second Thursday of the month in Conference Room B at Corvallis Good Samaritan Hospital.
The public is welcome and there is no charge. No personal information will be requested.
For more information on hearing aids you can also click the link below to learn more!