Timothy C. Hain, M.D.
Chicago Dizziness and Hearing Page last modified: October 21, 2016
Hearing aids are typically not covered by Medicare or commercial insurance and pricing varies according to the manufacturer, vendor, and service arrangements. According to Kirkwood (2005), in 2004, the average price of a single hearing aid was $1776. These prices are taken from an article on management of hearing loss by Bogardus et al, 2003. As of 2016, 12 years later, they haven't changed. A recent article in JAMA (2016) quotes $4700 for bilateral hearing aid fitting in the United States. This lack of downward drift for a basic commodity like a small electronic amplifier suggests that prices are fixed in the hearing aid industry.
|Hearing Aid Type||One ear||Both Ears|
|Conventional (Analog, non-programmable)||600 -1500$||1400-3000$|
|Programmable (Analog)||949 -2000$||2200-4000$|
These prices are typical of the industry, and are similar to those of a used car. In fact, hearing aids are often marketed in a very aggressive fashion, similar to cars, by "stand-alone" audiology practices. Hearing aid prices also seem to be "fixed" world-wide. There are no bargains to be found for hearing aids, and nobody seems to sell used ones at a discount either. In other words, hearing aids are basically a monopoly commodity. So, expect them to cost a lot !
Nearly everyone agrees that less expensive methods of obtaining hearing aids -- such as "over-the-counter" are in the best interests of persons with hearing difficulties. The cost to make hearing aids is generally thought to be about 10% of their selling price, and the result is that there are some very profitable companies. The National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine has continued to recommend that the FDA create a new category of device that would be available "over-the-counter" to consumers. (Lin et al, 2016). We will have to wait for the US government to legislate this issue, but it has been a very long wait already, so don't hold your breath.
|Socks -- you need a pair||Hearing aids - you don't always need a pair. Most of the benefit comes from the first one.|
Although this goes against the general recommendations of audiologists (who may make their living selling hearing aids) in reality hearing aids are not like socks where it makes no sense to just buy one. Most of the benefit comes from the first hearing aid. Yes, it is usually better to have two, but often you can get along pretty well with just one. In fact, some people like the fact that they can "turn their deaf ear" to something or someone, when it is convenient.
In most people, it works best to put the hearing aid on the better ear, as long as both ears have some deficit. You can always get a second one.
Hearing aids don't have to be a "matched pair" either.
|BTE (behind the ear) devices are generally cheaper||Completely in the ear devices are generally more expensive.|
You pay more for technology and for small size. Small digital aids cost more than big, clunky analog hearing aids. Hearing aids that can be "programmed" -- basically have their equalization changed at a later date, are more expensive than aids that are preset to a particular equilization.
Again comparing hearing aids to used cars, hearing aid models change just like cars -- features are added but not much really changes from year to year. All that a hearing aid needs to do basically is to make the sounds that you can't hear louder.
Perhaps you can get a lot of benefit from a large, conventional analog aid. Yes, other people can see it, but communication is worth some indignity.
Perhaps you don't really need to be able to boost the high end on your hearing aid 2 years after you purchase one (i.e. perhaps programmability is not so important).
Remember, you can generally try hearing aids for a month or a little more before you buy them.
There are many methods of making things louder without putting all of the electronics into or close to your ear. These are generally called "assistive devices". The typical assistive device costs about 10% as much as a hearing aid.
|PocketTalker, from hearmore.com|
For example, the "PocketTalker" shown above is a small clunky device that nevertheless can be useful for things like one-on-one communication. This device is usually priced around $175 (Costco sells them for $114).
There are assistive devices for TV's, telephones, and just wiring up offices with "loops". In essence, these are large, inexpensive hearing aids.
Hearing loss and hair loss seems to come eventually to all of us. For this reason, there are often charitable organizations that are willing to help out with hearing for persons who don't have financial resources to buy a hearing aid.
The first big consideration is "try before you buy". We wouldn't buy a used car , couch or a home stereo unit without trying it first.
If one were to do this anyway, it would seem very wise to know a LOT about the device we were buying (just as I like to know all about the stereo equipment I purchase). What does it do ? Who makes it ? Will they be in business longer than I will need this hearing aid ? What is it's frequency response ? How adjustable is it ? Can you get it with a t-coil (which is nice) ? How do you get it sized for ones ear ? How well does the frequency response of this device fit my needs ?
Audiologists and hearing aid dispensors (the people who typically "fit" hearing aids) will counsel you, make sure that it works, take it back if it doesn't work out in the first month, clean it, repair it, etc. For these services, these folks charge a lot of money !
Hearing aid prices are also consistently high -- similar to new car prices. There are generally no "bargain basement" hearing aids -- the hearing aid sales community is strangely consistent. We don't seem to have an "overstock.com" for hearing aids, and world-wide, prices are all about the same. Perhaps there is some price fixing going on in this industry.
Nevertheless, people who get their hearing aids from "big box" stores, like Costco, seem generally to be happy with the outcome, and also they seem to save a little bit of money. To us, it seems that as long as price-fixing and restraint of trade can be controlled in the industry, all other things being equal, it would make a lot more sense to sell hearing aids with other electronics technology -- in big technology stores like "Best Buy", rather than in little shops with an audiologist trying to make their living selling expensive devices to older people with age related hearing loss. If this were done with competition, we think prices would go way down.