Updated November 1, 2016 – A word from the site administrator: I started this site because my father had developed hearing loss and was having a problems finding credible unbiased information online. I saw the opportunity to make a real difference in peoples lives. For the past year we have been lucky enough to have a hearing aid expert who has spent 30 years in the hearing aid industry who believes in our vision to give people the information they are looking for. Hearing aid price is a hot topic and we do not wish to get into a debate over the price issue. What you will find below is a comment that was left by a reader and our response to his comments.
Dear fellow hearing loss sufferers, My name is Raymond and I’m a retired electronics engineer. I designed and built hearing aids for Bell labs for almost 40 years so I’m well versed on what it actually costs to produce a pair of hearing aids and believe me it will astound you.
There was a major shift in the way hearing aids were built and designed in about 2000. Before that time- all hearing aids were analog (essentially what Alexander Graham Bell invented 100 years before) with minor refinements over the previous 100 years. Someone at a recent convention said that “if what we had in 2001 was a hearing aid- what we have today, is not. And if what we have today is a hearing aid, then what we had in 2001 was not.” The technology has changed in ways that we could only dream of ten years ago. It is highly unfair to lump all hearing aids together in one big anamorphic bundle.
Just like the doctors and pharmaceutical companies are in bed together helping each other make huge amounts of money so are the audiologists and hearing aid manufacturers. Audiologists will often use big buzz words on you like “State of the Art” and “Latest Digital Technology” , The truth is the technology has been around for a long long time and all that has been added in recent years are a few bells and whistles like Bluetooth capability. ALL hearing aid manufactures share the same basic technology so the only real differences are in styling and features offered. The hearing aids that I’m currently wearing cost me around $350 (for the pair) to build and the same identical hearing aid retails for $6025.00 for the pair if you were to buy them. What costs the hearing aid manufactures hundreds to produce will cost you thousands to own. The only reason they have gotten away with this robbery for so long is because people have been made to believe that it really costs that much to produce and nobody has ever challenged it. It makes me sick to think that there are hundreds of thousands of elderly people out there on fixed incomes that will never be able to hear what they are missing because hearing aids are priced beyond their grasp. The reason why most insurance companies do NOT cover hearing aids because they know they are way way over priced . The best way I can think of to save a ton of money on hearing aids is DO NOT get them through an audiologist. Find them at places that buy them in bulk like Costco, Sears and Walmart. I’m really not a big fan of Walmart in general but they do carry a decent pair of hearing aids with no bells and whistles for around $999.00 that work great fo r most cases of high frequency hearing loss. These are the same quality that you would get through a audiologist at a fraction of the cost. I hope my story has been helpful to you. If you want to have a little fun feel free to share my story with your audiologist and watch them back pedal and stutter.
As does every other fitter in the country, who chooses to place his reputation on the line with such a product of that quality level. There are hearing aids that can be fit profitably at the $1000/ an ear level. Most patients want a better quality sound, but the product exists and can be fit by nearly anyone. Walmart may be a huge buyer of products, but they pale in comparison to the Veterans Administration when hearing aids are the subject. One needs to ask: “Why does the VA not choose to fit that level of hearing aid on our veterans?” I think that the answer closes the argument. Comments like this authors sound great if you say them fast, but they do not hold water in the real world. Any quality fitter would welcome a real world test of his $2000/ ear unit (the average price in the USA in 2009) versus the $999 hearing aid described. One visit to a busy restaurant would settle the debate on the spot.
Best of luck in your quest for better hearing, Raymond
There is no question that this industry has some problems and like most industries can and should have tighter scrutiny. But I believe that the improvement needed in this industry is in the area of the fitting professional, not in the commodity of the hearing aid. We need professionals who can properly fit the products and technologies we have available now. That is not an appeal for more alphabet soup after peoples names; that is a call for these fitters to learn what they are doing and respond properly to their patients questions and needs. They also need to educate the consumer of two major factors: 1. The hearing aid is a commodity by which a service is delivered. It is not the sum total of the service. Value is the standard by which one should evaluate price. A product that does its’ job is priceless. A product that does not do its’ job is worthless. Everything in between is simply arithmetic. #2.- Patients need to have reasonable expectations. Nobody can take a broken system like a major hearing impairment and repair it with a prosthetic device to a state better than the original hearing. Normal people have trouble in background noise. Normal hearing people misunderstand from time to time. Normal hearing people hear wind noise and things that are too loud. Hearing professionals have been too afraid to tell patients that they are not going to be “Bionic Men”, for fear that the patient will go to some other provider who has no qualms about promising the world and then delivering poor results. That just feeds into a circle of disappointment that is fueled by- “Well if I am going to get poor results, then I should pay as little as I can for those poor results”. The bottom line is that the patient does not want to get cheated. That is a function of value- not of price. If a patient receives value, he has little concern with the price. The cost of a hearing aid fitting encompasses things far beyond the cost of the hearing aid. The marketplace would weed out the manufacturers and fitters if there were a conspiracy that was alleged in this comment. The Chinese or someone would control the market within a year, if it were truly just a need to build the same product as everyone else for less money. The author is quite correct, junk can be built for far less than the $6000 he alleges. In point of fact, the average hearing aid fitting in the USA last year was about $2,000 an ear total (landed price with all services, taxes etc.). Low quality (same as”everybody else’s off the shelf technology”) is available for far less than the $400 he cites for his product. Those products can be easily had in the $50 to $100 range. The only problem I see with that level of technology is that the patient has to wear it.
I am torn about how to respond to this piece. I would prefer to not give such information “legs” as it is just this type of misleading information that has caused so much difficulty in the field. This speaks to the exact miss information that caused this website to be created. I do not want to get into an “argument” with this guy.
First, several of his comments are misleading at best and/or flat incorrect. First of all, it is the federal government who sets the rules and regulations for the industry– not the manufacturers or the dispensing professionals. Those regulations came about in the ’70s to rein in the exact “anybody can build anything they want from whatever parts are available” that were creating so many serious problems for seniors and resulted in the vast majority of hearing aids residing in top dresser drawers all over the country. Those regulations provided consumer protection and standards that have resulted in a better (clearly not perfect) industry that is still struggling with many of the “old wives tales” of issues that were rampant those days.
Those regulations created two broad groups of hearing devices. Hearing Aids; a customized product to act as a prosthetic device to aid human hearing and communication and Assistive Listening Devices- a non-customized amplifier that provides some help in limited environments. The author of this piece is describing technology that is common in the assistive device grouping. Assistive Listening Devices (ALD) are not regulated by the federal government and are available widely in the marketplace. You can purchase an ALD from the pages of the Sunday magazine in my local paper nearly every month. These devices often sell for $40 or less. They are horrible and anyone who has ever tried one, will attest to that fact. These products do indeed utilize parts and technology that is available at your local electronics store. This same technology shows up every Christmas in a variety of toys; I seem to recall a hamster looking thing that was a “hot buy “several years ago.
Here are some examples of Assistive Listening Devices.
Note that even though this guy refers to the unit as a “hearing Aid” in the title (Against the law by the way)- He refers to it as a sound amplifier in the description. He refers to it as “tuneable” (meaning it has a volume control), in such a way as to make people think “programmable”. Vastly different things. Also note that the draw on the unit is 5-8 MaH. In other words, it consumes about 8 milliamps of power for each hour it is on. A decent hearing aid will draw from .5 to 1 MaH. So this unit eats batteries 5 to 16 times faster than a real hearing aid.
He calls this a “high power hearing aid” but does not offer any specs. This has an external receiver button (last used on real hearing aids of this type in the early 50’s). It uses the highly customized fitting method of small, med and large baby bottle nipples. They refer to a four program unit that boils down to four different volume levels- nowhere does it say it is programmed to your loss, other than by turning the volume control up and down.
Warning: STAY AWAY FROM PRODUCTS LIKE THIS! They are a complete waste of money. Not only is the product horrible, but they will totally rip you off on shipping charges.
His assertion that hearing aids are being kept at a high price by a conspiracy among manufacturers and hearing professional is patently untrue. These devices are not regulated and can be sold by anyone to anyone legally. A short tour through nearly any magazine directed at the public will show the nonsense in his statement. Even if the manufacturers were able to conspire within their own ranks to keep prices of “commonly available” components that make up “regular” hearing aids at artificial levels; how does he explain that countries like China and India (who have shown=little respect for protecting any industry’s “protected technology”. These countries would be churning out thousands upon thousands of the hearing aids. They clearly have the labor the access to technology and the freedom from Western laws. The bottom line is that most new hearing aids are unique technology and the assembly of that technology is not something that can be done on your workbench in your garage.
If one has read www.hearingaidsreview.com for any time at all, they will note that the recurring theme has been that the hearing aid is a commodity and that the success or failure of the hearing aid fitting rests with the professional fitting it, not the device itself. They will find numerous mention of the statement “The worst hearing aid in the world will do more for the patient when fitted by someone who knows what he is doing; than the best hearing aid will do, when fitted by someone who does not know what he is doing”. If one looked purely at the price of the heart stent in a triple bypass, rather than the skill of the surgeon, the cost would only be about $25. I recently paid over a thousand dollars for a crown in my mouth. I seriously doubt that the cost of the commodity of the crown exceeded 10% of the price paid. I have access to gold and glue, why did not save $900 and make my own? The answer is clear- the dentist knew what he was doing and I paid for his service- not the commodity.
At least one insurance company determined within the past year to develop and dispense their own hearing aids with little assistance from the professional providers. I have yet to speak to a patient who has utilized this program, who was satisfied. By the way, the cost to the patient is nearly the same as when this same company utilized the normal pathways for hearing aid procurement in years past. The insurance company is saving money on the commodity, but the patient saves little and has been provided less service.
At least one “Big Box” electronics stores began selling “hearing aids” on their website and in select stores. The program lasted less than three months. Public pushback was enormous. Turns out people want quality and value- not price.
The Veterans Administration is the nations largest single provider of hearing aids. Their purchasing process is a huge bidding mess. The VA pays prices to the manufacturers and professionals that are nearly identical to the average price of hearing aids on the open market. If there was a vast conspiracy, the government would have been all over it. They have not done so because they have researched the subject, not bowed to knee-jerk reactions to limited information.
I would suggest that you tread softly with this subject. It could turn into a tar-baby that may not serve your readers well. His article is filled with miss-information and limited information. It sounds great if you say it fast, but could do more damage to your readers that it assists. He has his right to vent and state his opinion, but he should get his facts straight first.