Hearing loss is more common than you may think, yet few people take advantage of hearing aids. In the U.S., approximately 15% of all adults have trouble hearing. Researchers have linked hearing loss to age, noise, genetics, sex, race, and education. The most significant hearing loss occurs in adults who are 60 and older (75%) and men (nearly twice as many as women).
Reasons People Don’t Buy Hearing Aids
Many adults have trouble understanding conversations, watching television, and hearing certain sounds. Chances are that most may see a drastic improvement in all aspects of their life by wearing hearing aids. Unfortunately, 67-86% of adults with hearing loss don’t use hearing aids. There are many reasons why people don’t wear hearing aids:
- High cost of hearing technology
- Stigma of looking old or disabled
- Questionable level of comfort
- Appearance of hearing aids
- Self-perceived lack of benefits
Cost is one of the biggest barriers to using hearing aids. Unlike eyeglasses—which can range from a few dollars at a drugstore to a few hundred dollars at a medical office—a pair of FDA-registered hearing aids cost $4,600 on average, and can go as high as $8,000. This is asking to comparing apples to oranges but the question still remains:
“Why are hearing aids so expensive?”
Small Hearing Aid Market
In 2019, a record high of more than 4 million hearing aids were sold. When you consider the entire population, that’s only about 1% of Americans. You’d think that as hearing aid sales increase, the price would go down.
Not too long ago, few people could afford a television, computer, or mobile phones. Nowadays, you find that most people have smartphones, even in developing countries. Technology products that are mass-produced cost much less. It’s not cost-effective or feasible for audiologists to store hearing aids, so they only keep a limited supply on hand.
Due to the research requirements, you might expect higher prices for such a small market. With few competitors, medical device companies monopolize the market and inflate prices. In the case of hearing aids, retail prices often greatly exceed the cost it takes to manufacture them.
It’s difficult to know exactly what it costs for companies to produce a hearing aid. Estimates are anywhere from $100 for a low-end model to $300 for a high-end model. The average list price of a single hearing aid is about $2,400. If it takes $200 to make a hearing aid, then it would seem that customers are paying 10 times more than it’s worth.
The high value of a product or service may be a legitimate reason to charge higher prices. Value translates into intangible benefits that are hard to put in dollars and cents. These values are subjective but may include any of the following:
- Increased self-image
- Revived social life
- More independence
- Greater performance on the job
- Higher earning potential
- Improved health
- Reduced risk of depression
- Lower likelihood of dementia
- Elevated level of happiness
- Better quality of life
Research and Development (R&D)
The material production of hearing aids is minimal. Manufacturers may spend the majority of expenses on research. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the cost for research and materials is about 40% of the total cost. To produce a $4,400 pair of hearing aids, manufacturers might spend $1,320 on research and $440 on materials.
- Research — 30%
- Materials — 10%
Pricing is more than the cost of microprocessors, microphones, and other materials. Research is triple the cost of materials. Millions of R&D dollars go towards designing new and improved hearing aids. The process involves scientists, engineers, programmers, audiologists, and other experts.
There are quite a few factors that can affect the price you’ll pay for a pair of hearing aids. The cost associated with seeing an audiologist is about 60% of the total price. To dispense $4,440 hearing aids, audiologists spend about $1,760 a pair from the manufacturer and then spend $2,167 on business expenses. The actual price you pay may vary depending on your location and chosen provider.
- Salaries — 15%
- Rent/overhead — 11%
- Testing/diagnostic machines — 8%
- Marketing — 7%
- Continuing education/training — 5%
- Licenses/insurance — 3%
Audiologists often roll expenses into the price of hearing aids. They spend hours with patients conducting hearing evaluations, fittings, and follow-up visits. The greatest costs go into follow-up visits, though most audiologists do not charge for visits needed after hearing aids are purchased. More costs go into maintaining their hearing clinic. Salaries account for the largest percentage of expenses followed by rent and equipment. Business owners earn a profit that makes up a large part of the cost of hearing aids as well. Out of the $4,400 paid for a pair of hearing aids, an audiologist may make a profit of $473.
- Profit (pretax) — 11%
Licensed audiologists play an important role in hearing health. Not only do they fit hearing aids, but they also identify other hearing problems. There are many issues that a hearing aid won’t fix like clogged ears. Most audiologists offer free hearing tests and consultations.
If you have persistent hearing issues, you may want to visit your local hearing clinic.
To meet patients' varying needs, manufacturers created different styles of hearing aids. These styles fit behind-the-ear (BTE), in-the-ear (ITE), in-the-canal (ITC), or completely-in-canal (CIC). There's another style that looks like the BTE, called a receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aid. The main difference is that the speaker (or receiver) on the RIC sits inside the ear instead of behind the ear.
The different styles cost about the same for base models. Sometimes, you’ll find that the smaller the size of the hearing aid, the higher the price. It may be harder to produce high-quality technology that fits in a tiny device. The biggest price differences depend on the need for earmolds and high-end features. Hearing aids with one or more of the following advanced features will have a higher price tag:
- Rechargeable batteries
- Multiple channels
- Bluetooth wireless
- Smartphone connectivity
- Water resistance
- Own voice processing
- Wellness monitoring
- Directional microphones
- Tinnitus masking
- Noise reduction
- Automatic programming
- And more...
The top hearing aid brands come in different styles, sizes, models, and even colors. They may have basic to advanced technological features for the processing of sound. The one you choose will depend on your budget, lifestyle, and level of hearing loss. Regardless, all hearing aids have the same basic components that work together in the same way.
Bundled Services and Add-ons
Another factor that can increase how much you pay for your hearing aids is bundling. As mentioned, audiologists include many services as part of the sale of hearing aids. When they offer a return policy, then they must absorb all costs if the patient isn’t happy with their hearing aids. The following is a list of products and services that audiologists may bundle together:
- Hearing test and consultation
- Hearing aids and accessories
- Hearing aid fitting and programming
- Follow-up hearing aid adjustments
- Hearing aid cleanings and maintenance
- Supply of batteries, drying kits, and other consumables
- 1- to 3-year warranty for replacement and repairs
- Limited warranty for loss and damage
- Return policies
Hearing aid dispensers add in a range of products or services on top of the hearing aid itself. This helps hearing professionals reimburse themselves for various expenses. You may need some of the products and services to keep your hearing aids in good working order. Other services may not be what you need at all, so be sure to consider all options.
Lack of Health Insurance Coverage
Getting affordable medical care is a challenge especially for those with hearing loss. The high price of hearing aids leaves people scrambling to find ways to pay for them. It’s improbable that a health insurance company will foot the entire bill for hearing aids. Some may provide partial coverage, which is better than nothing.
Employer Medical Plans
A 2017 survey showed that 40% of people didn’t have hearing aid coverage as part of their insurance policies. Only five states have insurance mandates for hearing aids for adults. These include Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. More states offer coverage for children with hearing loss.
Federal Medical Plans
If you’re 65 and older, then you may be wondering if Medicare covers hearing aids. Surprisingly, hearing aids aren’t covered through the Original Medicare plan. That goes for Medicare Part A, Medicare Part B, Medicare Part D, and Supplement (Medigap) Plans. Medicare Part B covers hearing-related exams and treatment but not hearing aids.
Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) offer benefits through private insurance companies. Some cover hearing aids but it depends on the plan and the provider, so it pays to shop around for a Medicare Plan. Similarly, several states provide Medicaid hearing aid benefits for eligible individuals. In some cases, you may qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
The Medicare Audiology Services Enhancement Act of 2015 was introduced to require Medicare plans to cover hearing aids and related services. This hearing aid law is considered controversial, so Congress has yet to pass it.
Hearing Aid Laws
Technology to help hearing loss of an aging population has changed over the years. Congress passed several laws to protect people who wear hearing devices. Some of these laws include the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 (HAC), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA). Other laws regulate the type of hearing aids that people can use for hearing loss.
FDA-Regulated Hearing Aids
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all medical devices. It categorizes hearing aids as wearable technology designed to compensate for impaired hearing. Manufacturers and retailers of hearing aids must follow all FDA requirements. There are guidelines for product labels, instructional materials, medical evaluations, and documentation.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 (FDARA) permits a new class of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. These FDA-regulated hearing aids will be available to buy for a wide range of prices from $300 or less to as much as $1,000 or more per ear. Only adults with mild to moderate hearing loss are eligible for OTC hearing aids. Patients don’t need to see an otolaryngologist, an audiologist, or a hearing aid specialist, making hearing aids more accessible and less expensive.
Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs)
The FDA doesn’t consider typical hearing amplifiers to be medical devices. Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) only increase the sound volume. They don’t distinguish sounds or have customized settings like hearing aids. PSAPs are less expensive but only serve as entertainment or to increase sounds in certain situations such as bird watching or hunting. Although they're similar to hearing aids, they’re not meant for everyday use under normal situations. If you have trouble hearing, PSAPs might sound tempting to try. But, they aren't FDA-regulated, so they’re not suitable for hearing loss. Using a PSAP can damage your hearing even more because of the dangerously loud audio and the risk of having an undiagnosed medical condition.
How to Afford Hearing Aids
Despite the high cost of hearing aids, there are a few ways to save money and help you hear better. Some look at wholesale clubs and big-box stores like Costco and Walmart, and some turn to the internet. To help you afford quality hearing aids, you may find better choices below:
- Basic, Unbundled Products – avoid unneeded and costly features, addons, services
- Online Hearing Aids – buy from online providers and save money by cutting out the middleman
If you have trouble paying for hearing aids, even after finding ways to save, there are other options. It may take some digging around, but there are many payment plans and financial assistance programs that may be able to help.
- Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) – pay using pretax income
- Clubs and Associations – contact member organizations about possible discounts
- Leasing, Financing and Payment Plans – ask your provider about monthly payment options
- Medical Credit Cards – consider cards like CareCredit but watch out for high interest rates
- Government Agencies – contact local and state agencies who may offer funding support
- Charitable Organization – research low-income programs like Help America Hear
Finding a way to pay for hearing aids can be a challenge, but it’s vital to your health and quality of life. Many people take their hearing for granted and refrain from getting hearing aids. While hearing loss can be an inconvenience, it can also affect your balance and put you at risk of falling. Poor hearing can also lead to cognitive decline, social isolation, and depression. If you don’t address hearing issues now, you could experience more serious problems down the line.
If you’re having hearing concerns, take our free online hearing test and get immediate results.
Thanks to research, hearing technology has become more and more advanced. Hearing aids are of higher quality, much smaller, and more accessible. Unfortunately, as technology becomes cheaper to produce, hearing aid prices continue to rise. You can blame it on the market, value, R&D, insurance, laws, audiologists, or high tech.
If you can't afford expensive hearing aids, you're not alone. It can take two months’ worth of an average household's income to pay for a pair. You may think, “you get what you pay for." Nowadays, the highest-priced hearing aids aren't always better. There’s a huge advantage to buying hearing aids online.
The MDHearing Solution
At MDHearing, we cut out the middleman so that you can get hearing aids for 90% less. Founded by a Chicago ENT doctor who pioneered online hearing aids more than a decade ago, we specialize in providing the same high-quality, medical hearing technology offered by brick and mortar stores and clinics, but at a significantly lower cost.
Because we cut out the middleman (and eliminate overhead costs and high markups), MDHearing customers can purchase a pair of FDA-registered hearing aids for as little as $299 a pair. Best of all, our hearing aids fit 94% of hearing loss patients and come with a 45-day risk-free trial, U.S.-based customer service, and free shipping.
Want to learn more about our low-cost, FDA-registered hearing aids?
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