Hearing Aids 101
Prescription hearing aids are a short-term investment with long-term benefits.
Of the 48 million Americans who experience hearing loss, only about 20 percent have ever worn hearing aids. Considering the mainstream acceptance of glasses as a solution to vision problems, why shouldn’t everyone take the same care of their hearing?
One of the most common complaints shared among those with hearing loss today is that the benefits of hearing aids don’t warrant the high cost. It’s no secret that there’s a stigma surrounding hearing aid use—many claim that they make you seem old, they’re unfashionable and distracting, and they simply don’t work. While research regarding the prevalence of hearing loss and the technology behind today’s smart and discreet hearing aids disprove these misconceptions, the price of prescription hearing aids can be enough to drive away potential buyers.
The high cost of hearing
The first hearing aids were incredibly expensive for their time—a single unit cost between $62 and $159—and would hardly be considered sophisticated in today’s world. Modern adult hearing aids are not covered by insurance in most states, leaving patients to pay out-of-pocket for prescription devices that can retail from around $1,000 to $4,000 per ear. This cost increase may seem drastic if you don’t consider the influencing factors, such as:
- Advanced digital technology. Old hearing aids were analog and merely turned the volume up on sounds through the environment, leaving the results muddy and uncontrolled. All of today’s hearing aids make use of digital software that enables them to filter out unwanted background noise and enhance speech and environmental sounds, no matter the listening situation.
- Custom-built design. Unlike consumer electronic devices, hearing aids are often customized to ensure they correct your specific hearing issues and meet your comfort preferences and lifestyle requirements. They are also constructed for maximum quality and durability so they can keep working at peak performance for years to come.
- Research costs. Part of the cost of hearing aids goes toward audiological research teams who work with the most cutting-edge equipment and resources, including neural networks and artificial intelligence systems, to make hearing aids smarter, safer, and more enjoyable to wear. Among the top six hearing aid manufacturers worldwide, approximately $500 million is spent annually on research and development, which has an effect on the price of their products.
Even despite a seemingly high price of $4,500 for two hearing aids, a life expectancy of six years means that your devices will cost $750 a year, or just over $2 a day. Considering the average person with hearing loss can increase their annual income by as much as $12,000 a year simply by being fitted with hearing aids(by way of improved work performance), this one-time investment should be less alarming.
Bundled prices for hearing aids and service
You may have read online that professional hearing aids don’t cost much to manufacture, and that their selling price is nothing but profit-driven, but this is most certainly not the case. In reality, buying a hearing aid is not the same as buying a new smartphone or laptop, as any piece of medical equipment that is going to modify your daily living will involve a multi-step purchase and maintenance process.
Bundled with the cost of hearing aids are a number of healthcare-related services. The most useful—and money-saving—benefit of these packages for wearers is the freedom to schedule unlimited follow-up visits at no extra charge to have the hearing care professional troubleshoot and fine-tune your hearing aids. Other services include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Hearing screening
- Hearing aid fitting and programming
- Hearing aid batteries and accessories
- Counseling and treatment options
- Earmold impressions
- Hearing aid warranties
- Microphone testing
- Hearing aid adjustments and repairs
- Therapy services
Before purchasing a hearing aid, be sure to ask your hearing care professional about all the services that come along with it. They will be happy to explain all the services included in their package so you can see for yourself where your money is going. Some may be willing to discuss if there are any opportunities to “unbundle” in order to negotiate a lower price. Others offer financing and other assistance.
What can my insurance cover?
Third-party payment options from union groups, insurance companies, rebates, Veterans Affairs, Medicare, and more can all be used to help cover the cost of hearing aids.
Medicare Part B and supplemental insurance – These plans will pay for a diagnostic visit if your primary care physician or other approved healthcare provider orders tests to determine your eligibility for treatment. In addition, Medicare covers 80 percent of the doctor’s services approved by Medicare for covered exams once you’ve paid your Part B deductible. However, the price of hearing aids and any follow-up visits are not covered by Medicare.
Even partial coverage from supplemental insurance programs such as Medicare Advantage (Part C) can significantly reduce costs. Potential hearing aid buyers should also consult the guidelines regarding coverage for AARP and Blue Cross/Blue Shield members, as these private insurers often provide rebates and other services for the hard of hearing. Since even partial coverage can make fittings and the devices themselves much more affordable, we recommend contacting these providers to learn more about their offerings.
Medicaid – The Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) Program covers the cost for hearing exams and hearing aids for children under the age of 21. Medicaid does not usually cover adult exams and hearing aids unless the patient is eligible according to certain regulations. Call or visit your local Medicaid office to determine what coverage options are available in your state.
Veterans Affairs – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers partial or full coverage to eligible veterans for hearing tests and hearing aids. Depending on your location and circumstance, this agency may also provide free accessories and batteries for your hearing aid.
Other coverage options – Employees can ask about insurance benefits by contacting their Human Resources department. For those who don’t receive occupational coverage, a medical Flexible Spending Account (FSA) could provide up to $5,000 a year in pre-tax dollars that can be used toward your hearing aids and related services. In addition, nonprofit and government organizations have been established across the country to help reduce the cost of hearing aids and accessories. Consult a hearing loss support group in your area to determine what options are available for you.
Ultimately, the best way to receive proper advice on how to ease the burden of having to pay for hearing aids is by speaking with your hearing care professional. They will be able to look at your coverage and refer you to various organizations or information sources that can assist with the financial hardships of hearing care.
Avoiding consultation is risky
You may be tempted to unbundle the cost of hearing aids yourself by purchasing one of the many hearing-related products available online and skipping a medical examination. Unfortunately, the low prices of these generic devices is often too good to be true. When it comes to hearing loss, self-care has been linked to potential complications, including worsening existing hearing loss.
The FDA so far approved the use of the term “hearing aid” only for those devices that are sold by authorized hearing care professionals, such as audiologists and hearing instrument specialists. Products sold online or via retail outlets cannot currently receive this designation and are often referred to as personal sound amplification devices, or PSAPs. The limited technological features on these devices mean that your user experience will be poorer than what you would receive from a prescribed hearing aid. Avoiding professional medical treatment could keep you in the dark about the severity of your hearing loss and its implications for your future health.
Hearing is one of the most important senses, and also among the most fragile. Only prescription hearing aids are guaranteed to promote better and safer hearing with the added bonus of free or discounted medical visits to keep your ears working their best. For more information about FDA regulation and PSAPs, please click here.
Your hearing isn’t getting any better on its own
Time and time again, reports show that hearing aid wearers are more satisfied with their experience when their devices are fitted and adjusted by a licensed practitioner. With the help of a hearing care professional, you can take the first step toward having your hearing loss diagnosed and purchasing a hearing aid so you can regain all the sounds you’ve been missing. Contact a hearing care professional using our online locator and schedule a no-obligation appointment today.
*NOTE: all government-run insurance information was taken from their .gov websites and was accurate at the time of this publication. As healthcare coverage fluctuates we advise consulting these websites directly for the most up-to-date and accurate information: