Yes, hearing aids are expensive. As is the case with all electronic devices, the higher the quality and technological capabilities, the more these devices cost to produce. Hearing aids are also smaller than ever, meaning the “guts” that enable them to function have to be tiny, yet powerful. Hearing aids contain the same basic components, but keep in mind they can vary widely when it comes to technology level, quality, and ability:
- Microphones: Pick up sound and convert it into an electrical signal. Hearing aids contain one or more microphones, depending on size and capabilities. More advanced hearing aids have directional microphones that actually sense from which direction a desired sound (e.g., the voice of a conversation partner) is coming and automatically focus on it.
- Amplifiers: Increase the volume of a sound before sending it to receivers. Advanced devices have amplifiers that don’t make everything uniformly loud, but rather distinguish between increasing desired sound (e.g., voice of a person in front of you) while leaving undesired noise like clattering dishes in a restaurant in the background.
- Receivers/speakers: Change the electrical signals from the amplifiers back into sound impulses sent through the ear into the brain. High-quality hearing aids can communicate with one another and reroute sounds for maximum effect (e.g., transmit desired sound into right hearing aid when open driver’s side window lets in wind noise).
- Batteries: Keep hearing aids powered up. Regular disposable batteries have to be replaced roughly once a week. Higher-end rechargeable hearing aids require new batteries only once or twice a year.
- Controls: Most hearing aids include rocker switches and/or buttons for the wearer to adjust volume and change between basic settings. The more advanced the hearing aid, the more program options may be included, such as customized programs (e.g., “telephone”, “tinnitus”). Some can even learn your preferences for hearing in different environments and switch programs automatically, such as if you leave your car and go into a crowded restaurant.
When you account for the amount of research and development that goes into making hearing aids tinier, yet more effective, on top of the cost of producing ever-shrinking, ever-advancing microelectronics to power them, the high price tag starts to make more sense.
Don’t forget the hearing care professional’s services
Besides the expenses directly related to the manufacturing of the hearing aids, you need to factor in all the service you receive from the hearing care professional who sells them. Their expenses include all the costs of doing business (e.g., renting office space, equipment maintenance, licensing and insurance fees). And don’t forget that as a patient, you only pay once for your office visit, which typically includes a hearing test and hearing aid fitting, but receive unlimited follow-up visits at no extra charge. That’s a lot more service and attention than one typically receives from a medical professional. And don’t forget that while many insurance plans don’t cover the hearing aids themselves, many insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, will cover the cost of this office visit entirely so long as you meet certain criteria. To find out if your office visit and/or hearing aids will be covered, check with your insurer before scheduling an appointment for your hearing examination. If not, it’s still worth contacting a hearing care professional, as many will offer payment assistance of their own.