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Hearing Aid “Sticker Shock”

This article was first published on both Audiology On-Line and on Hearing Loss Web. The article was written by Steve Barber, who is a hard of hearing consumer and a long term member of Hearing Loss Association of America. The article covers the many reasons that hearing aids are still expensive and things you should consider to make sure you get your money's worth. The article should be of interest to consumers, and professionals.

Hearing Aid “Sticker Shock” and Things to Consider When Purchasing

Introduction:

We’ve all heard about the guy that knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing? It turns out the price of things is not always linked to some intrinsic value, their materials or their size.

The price of gasoline has risen dramatically. It seems obscene that we could be paying $2 or more for a gallon of gas, but then again…there’s a lot of value that gallon of gas provides. The ability to travel 20 or 30 miles (unless you bought one of those SUVs) is certainly worth 2 dollars; at least it is to me, so I pay it.

When you consider the specific costs involved, in some respects, there’s more value in a gallon of gas than a gallon of bottled water. The gallon of water probably bubbled out of the ground, almost directly into a bottle and required no serious processing or transportation costs. The gallon of gas required major cost for exploration, drilling, pumping, transporting half way around the world, refining, transporting again, and retailing … yet, some bottled water costs more than gasoline.

So although gasoline is indeed far more expensive than we’re used to, what makes gasoline so cheap when compared to water? And -- what’s that got to do with the price of hearing aids?

With hearing aids, some of the same issues apply. Everyone knows the cost of hearing aids isn’t based on the materials that go into them – that’s a given. From a “materials” standpoint, there’s a little plastic, a wire or two, a tiny microphone or two, a speaker and the equivalent of millions and millions and millions of digital chips, but still, the actual dollar cost of raw materials is fairly low. Then again, based on raw materials, the average human being is worth less than $1. Both human beings and hearing aids are worth (and cost) a lot more than the cost of their materials.

PART ONE: Why Do Hearing Aids Cost So Much?

I will address a few of the specific things that contribute to the retail price of hearing aids, but please understand, the list below is not comprehensive. Some of the factors that go into the price of hearing aids include:

  • Technology
  • Durability and Reliability
  • Personal Fitting
  • Professional Costs
  • Product Lifecycle
  • Manufacturing Costs
  • Marketing Costs
  • Warrantee Costs
  • Free Trial Costs
  • Inflation
  • Customization
1- Technology:

Just 20 years ago, most hearing aids were analog; they were not programmable and certainly not digital. Hearing aids had no software, they were adjusted using a screwdriver, and generally, there were only two adjustment screws. Most hearing aids didn’t have telecoils, and very few had directional microphones. FM, remote controls and Bluetooth didn’t exist. In 2005, all those things are common.

These things didn’t just “happen”. They are the result of hearing aid manufacturers investing heavily in developing new technology and features. They are the result of hearing aid users being willing to pay for the advantages that these (and future) “bleeding edge” improvements provide.

The cost to the manufacturer for staying on the bleeding edge of technology is a killer. Consumers, of course, pay for those advances, but that’s the cost (and benefit) of staying on the bleeding edge. Very good hearing aids with older technology are available at lower prices, but when most people buy a hearing aid, they want the best they can get, not the best that was available 20 years ago.

When I bought my first home computer in 1983, the retail price was $6,000. It was an amazing piece of equipment and a good bargain to me, at that time. I’d worked on mainframe computers that cost millions of dollars, and I recall being blown away that I could actually buy a personal computer for only $6,000, which 22 years ago seemed very fast (4 MHz.), had lots of memory (it came with 16 kilobytes, although I bought the 48 kilobyte upgrade), and it had not one, but two floppy drives -- holding a mammoth 180 kilobytes on each diskette, for only $6000. But remember, 20 years ago, that was a bargain.

Now, you can buy a PC literally 1000 times faster with 8000 times the memory and 10,000 times the disk space and other amazing things (too numerous to mention) all for one-tenth the cost of my original computer. That kind of price reduction is not going to happen with hearing aids; because so few hearing aids are sold compared to computers, but the rapid and uncertain direction of technology caused early personal computers to be very expensive … just as that same factor has affected hearing aid prices.

2- Durability and Reliability

Hearing aids have to work and endure some nasty situations. Most people wear their hearing aids some 12 to18 hours daily. They wear them in freezing winter weather and on hot summer days. They wear them when it rains, maybe with an umbrella, maybe not. They wear them when they play tennis and sweat trickles around their ears. Worse still, is when you consider that the majority of all hearing aids sold (perhaps 2/3rds or so) are custom made to be inserted in the ear canal, the product is has to function in an ear canal that literally exudes wax and humidity. Dr. Beck (editor of www.healthyhearing.com assures me that even the cleanest of all ear canals have bacteria, fungi and viruses too. So beyond moisture, heat and earwax, we have unimaginable germs working to negatively impact the environment in which hearing aids live every moment of their life cycle.

Speaking of life cycles, digital custom-made hearing aids are expected to survive nicely in even the nastiest ear canals for approximately 5 to 7 years. Behind-The-Ear (BTE) instruments generally last longer than in-ear models.

Durability and reliability that can handle that kind of abuse is not cheap. When NASA wants a transistor for a spacecraft, they don’t pop over to Radio Shack, choose a bubble pack and hope it works all the way to Saturn. They need to know that their transistor will handle the rigors of space. You can bet that the transistors NASA does buy are going to be a lot more expensive than the ones you can buy in a bubble pack.

Likewise, most hearing aid manufacturers have to invest heavily making sure their switches, mics, receivers, chips, cases, connectors, and even battery contacts hold up through years of normal and abnormal use, too. If they use cheap parts and crummy assembly techniques, they will pay over and over again to correct very costly errors.

I’ve got a remote control for my hearing aid. I love it, but was horrified a couple of weeks after I bought my hearing system as I picked it up from the parking lot after a car had run over it! You might be surprised that 6 years later I’m still using that same remote. It didn’t even need to be repaired. Don’t try this with your hearing aid or assistive technology, but it gave me a good deal of respect for the reliability and durability of my remote.

3 - Personal Fitting

When you buy glasses, the doctor measures your vision, writes a prescription, and you buy glasses from someone who inserts the lenses in the frame and adjusts the frames so they fit correctly. With hearing aids it’s similar, but a lot more problematic. With glasses, the prescription is almost always a near perfect match for your needs. With new glasses you can immediately see quite well. It doesn’t matter how bright the light is or whether the colors are properly adjusted; you can see almost perfectly in all situations.

With hearing aids, the prescription is less likely to result in an immediate perfect fit. Your hearing loss and your hearing test is just the starting point. Hearing aids can make a huge difference in your ability to hear, but no hearing aid can achieve near-perfect hearing right out of the box. Considerable and highly specialized attention throughout the fitting process is required to adjust the hearing aids, not just to your hearing loss, but indeed, to your hearing needs.

If your hearing aid just had to match your hearing loss, that would be easy. Like glasses, the “first fits” would likely all be perfect. But it’s just not that simple. Your brain is really where hearing occurs, and your ears are merely the transmitters of the information. The professional has to adjust the hearing aids to amplify the soft sounds you don’t hear well without making the other sounds too loud. All the amplified sounds have to be placed in your comfortable listening range. Ear molds, or the aid’s body itself, have to be designed with appropriate bores and vents to match your needs and to straddle a, sometimes, thin line between that “plugged-up” feeling and feedback. Features that can minimize background noise must be properly set so that you can hear your best at parties, in restaurants or in the car. Getting the aids to work well for you on the phone adds another challenge to the fitting, with telecoils, or assistive technology requiring special attention.

The amazing thing about all this personal fitting stuff is that it has to be done without the professional being able to actually hear what you are hearing. No one can hear what you are hearing.

Fitting glasses is more like a science and fitting hearing aids is more like an art ... and it’s likely to remain so. Frequently, several visits are required for you to get the most comfortable and effective fitting. A lot depends on your ability to convey your experiences and needs to your fitter, and a lot depends on their skill, training and ability to work with you.

4- Professional Costs

Fitting hearing aids is indeed a complicated affair. Most people buying hearing aids expect to be fitted by someone who is really good at what they do. An audiologist in the United States must have a bachelor’s degree and also, at least a master’s degree in audiology, and many of them have doctorates too, such as an Au.D. (Doctor of Audiology) or a Ph.D. degree. Degrees cost a lot of time and money! Another important issue is that technology changes so rapidly that anyone licensed to fit hearing aids (audiologists and hearing aid specialists) must attend seminars and other training events to stay current and to maintain their licenses. They can’t fit hearing aids with a $2 screwdriver anymore; special computers, adaptors, experience and skill are needed to fit them correctly.

5 - The High Cost of Low Volumes

Not sound volume -- I’m talking about sales volumes. Hearing aids are typically not high volume products. In fact, less than two million units are fit per year in the USA. When you consider the number of manufacturers (many dozens) and the different models and circuits offered, the “number of units sold per model” is relatively low, never really achieving the “economies of scale” apparent with lap-tops, cell phones, PC computers, DVD players, TV, CD players, iPODs automobiles, eyeglasses, sunglasses, digital cameras, calculators or contact lenses. The lack of sales drives up the cost in at least two important ways:
Research and Development: When a company manufactures a product, the pricing of that product must recover the cost of research and development (R&D) for that product. Because hearing aids are often “bleeding edge” products, the research and development costs can be substantial and must be spread over a relatively small number of units sold.

Manufacturing Costs: Most hearing aids are not manufactured in huge volumes (see above). Manufacturing costs for any product are high (on a per unit basis) when volumes are low. Costs, such as bricks and mortar, leases/mortgages, insurance, warrantees, production equipment and personnel, administrative staff, phones, shipping, packaging, returns for credit, marketing, heat, lights, taxes and on and on…. all add to the per-unit cost of hearing aids.
Interestingly, the cost of research is relatively fixed. For example, it takes a team of engineers X amount of time (and equipment and related costs) to design a new hearing aid circuit. However, if only one person purchases that circuit, that one person pays the whole bill. If ten people purchase that circuit, they each pay a tenth, and if a hundred people buy it they each pay one one-hundredth. Economy of scale is an important issue.

6 - Marketing Costs

There’s a lot of competition in the hearing aid industry. The Sunday papers sometimes have full page ads offering “free hearing screenings.” They say you should come in and be tested because it “might just be wax“ and you can get a $1000 discount if you buy now. Yawn. These ads are typically from the “mass marketing” distributors that typically sell one brand (theirs, of course). Somebody’s got to pay for those ads, right?

Even major name brand hearing aids marketed through independent hearing aid dealers and audiologists require a substantial amount of money for marketing. A lot of money is needed for to market any product. Advertisements, web pages, slick brochures, product launch events, seminars, training, nice packaging, and toll-free numbers are examples of marketing costs. Someone has to pay for all of those things too! Of course, the local professionals need their own marketing materials too, and computers, and offices, and administrative staff, and business cards, and telephones, and lights and signs, etc.

7 - Warrantee Costs

When you purchase hearing aids from a reputable dealer or audiologist, it will come with a warrantee. If you have any problems, they’ll fix it or replace it for free (see above). Some warrantees even cover problems that aren’t the fault of the hearing aid or fitting itself. For instance, if you step on your hearing aid and crush it, or if your dog chews it up, the professional will generally replace it for free, or perhaps charge a slight “refit” fee. Try that with your car, iPOD, DVD player, CD Player, cell phone or TV. It pays to understand what your warrantee covers, but whatever it covers, somebody’s got to pay for maintenance or replacement when something does go wrong.

Obviously, when a hearing aid fails, it costs money to repair it, and of course, if it’s under warranty, you don’t receive an additional bill. However, the manufacturer does pay dearly.

Imagine if even a ten-cent switch breaks during the 11th month of hearing aid ownership. You bring the hearing aid to the professional, they fill in the paperwork, send it via air express, the factory takes it apart, troubleshoots it, fixes it, re-assembles it, sends it back to the professional air express, the professional receives the hearing aid, calls you, and you pick up the instrument…what did the ten cent switch cost the manufacturer to repair?

That’s why durability and reliability and warrantee costs are very real issues for the manufacturers too!

8 - Free Trial Costs

Most states require that hearing aids can be returned within a 30-day period for just about any reason, with only a small fitting fee kept by the professional. Try that with your travel agent (“But I didn’t like visiting Greenland!), or with your automobile dealer (Can I have my money back for that new car I bought last week, please?). Obviously, it’s not really free, and such costs are just one more reason that hearing aids are expensive.

9 - Inflation

I mention this only because others frequently bring it up when explaining why the price of anything is high. Yes, inflation affects everything, even hearing aids. But, it’s not really the main reason, or even a primary reason that hearing aids are expensive. One recent article even tried to show that since the first hearing aids were produced almost a century ago, that the current price isn’t all that far out of line after it’s been adjusted for inflation. Of course, it’s pointless to compare the price of things over so much time and technological advancement. An airliner costs a lot more than the Wright Brothers’ plane did in 1903 even after adjusting for inflation. Does that mean that airplanes are too expensive now? Of course not! Even if they are too expensive, it’s not because of inflation.

In some ways, hearing aids are like airplanes. Just as a 747 has much more capability than did the Wright Brothers’ plane, today’s hearing aids are dramatically improved compared to even aids of 20 or 30 years ago. So, while inflation does matter, it’s not really the key price factor for airplanes or hearing aids.

10 - Customization

The vast majority (approximately 2/3rds) of all hearing aids sold are custom made devices. That means the hearing healthcare professional has to physically examine your ear, safely take an ear impression with appropriate medical grade silicone, using universal precautions (to protect you and the professional) and then safely remove the ear impression from your ear, and then ship the ear impression to either an ear mold lab for BTE instruments, or to the hearing aid manufacturer for custom made in-ear instruments. The hearing aid shell is manufactured before the circuit is installed, and by the way, it takes a computer to figure out how to place an amplifier, miscellaneous computer chips, a microphone, a receiver, a power supply, a vent and other wires and components into a shell that has been custom built for your ear canal, which may be the size of a pencil eraser, in such a way as to not cause electrical “cross-talk” problems or acoustic feedback. Remember the “Economies of Scale” from earlier? Well, each hearing aid is brand new, and has never before been assembled in a shell to exactly fit your ear!

PART TWO: Things to Consider When Buying Hearing Aids

Here are a few tips on saving money … or at least, not wasting money. Taking these things to heart can help more people become happy hearing aid users, and that will eventually encourage quality hearing aids at lower prices.
  • Watch out for Scams: It’s important to not waste money on hearing aids that don’t give you a reasonable improvement in your ability to hear and understand speech. There are many products that claim to help with hearing, but many are not effective. Don’t be taken in by products that make exaggerated or ridiculous claims. In fact, be very careful if the product claims to NOT to be a hearing aid! Some products claim remarkable similarity to hearing aids; they claim you will hear “whispers across a room”. and that’s a clue to you, as a consumer, to be suspicious. Ads for products sneaking in under the FDA’s radar by stating they are “NOT a hearing aid” is usually a secret code for products so useless; that the company offering them could get into legal difficulties if they claimed it was a hearing aid! Being a hearing aid is not easy. Hearing aids are regulated by the FDA and they have to be well made and must incorporate safety, quality and health standards that most “mail order” and over-the-counter products cannot achieve. Of course, those “come on” ads prey on people in denial and those who think they don’t need or want a hearing aid, or perhaps purchasers who believe they can save lots of money by purchasing unregulated products…they can’t. You get what you pay for.

  • Check your Insurance: Most insurance policies don’t cover hearing aids, although some do. Often it’s only partial coverage, but don’t miss out if your insurance covers hearing aids.

    Here’s an interesting and common scenario: Some insurance programs tout their “hearing aid benefit,” indeed they claim to “cover hearing aids” but what you’ll learn as you go through the process, is that they may only pay 400 or 500 dollars towards a hearing aid, which costs the professional perhaps twice that. If the professional were to supply you with a product completely paid for by your insurance, you would get the equivalent of an 8 track player in the iPOD age, or simply, a very bad product that does not meet your expectations or your needs. But before you get upset with the hearing healthcare professional, understand that it was the insurance company that sold you the “hearing aid benefit” and not the hearing healthcare professional!

  • See if You Qualify for Veterans’ Administration Benefits: If you’re a veteran, and if your hearing loss has been demonstrably connected to your military service, it’s possible that the VA will provide aids for you. You must contact your VA to see if you are eligible for VA benefits.

  • See if You Qualify for Vocational Rehabilitation Support: People who are unemployed but are employable may qualify for help thorough Vocational Rehabilitation, within your state. If hearing loss is preventing you from being hired, and if hearing aids might make a job possible, your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation department might buy hearing aids for you.

    Don’t assume because you’re not employed or looking for work that you don’t qualify. Some states have companion programs for “independent living” associated with their Vocational Rehabilitation programs to help people who might be able to remain independent with financial aid for a disability, including hearing loss. You’ll need to check with them personally. There are strict guidelines, stringent limitations and red tape, but you may get help in obtaining hearing aids or assistive technology and maybe even a job.

  • Check with Civic Organizations: Lions International has programs to help people obtain hearing aids. Sertoma also helps people with hearing loss. Sometimes even local organizations can help; at least one SHHH Chapter has gotten a grant to help local people who can’t afford hearing aids. Your hearing healthcare professionals are usually aware of the civic and charitable groups available to you based on your specific situation; speak with them about this issue.

  • Learn about Overcoming Hearing Loss: Most people who purchase hearing aids have very little understanding of hearing loss or hearing aids. For many people, the two factors they initially consider when shopping for hearing aids is they want hearing aids “so small, no one will know” and frankly, they usually want the “least expensive.” Neither of those factors will typically steer you in the best direction!

    Before you shop for hearing aids, speak with successful hearing aid users, not someone who bought hearing aids and returned them, or doesn’t use them. Of course, you can learn a lot from someone else’s negative experiences, but realize you are looking for the “right way” to acquire hearing aids, and learning what some people did wrong is probably not as valuable as learning what successful people did right!

    One of the very best things you can do is to join Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH). Learn more at www.hearingloss.org.

    SHHH members get a wonderful magazine about hearing loss from which you can learn a great deal about overcoming hearing loss. SHHH also has hundreds of local chapters. If there’s one near you, attend a meeting and meet people who have been successful in overcoming their hearing loss, and they’ll be happy to share the lessons they’ve already learned.

  • Choose hearing aids that help you hear best: That seems obvious, but too many people choose the aid they think is the smallest, the cheapest or the most invisible. However, Behind-The-Ear (BTE) models usually are cheaper, more reliable and have more impressive features than smaller, custom made in-ear hearing aids. The smaller aids aren’t necessarily the wrong choice, but their main sales point is usually their size, and that comes with a higher price tag and fewer features.

  • Learn about Hearing Aid Features: There are plenty of weird words and acronyms related to hearing loss. If you don’t know about telecoils, DAI, directional microphones, ALD, clipping, compression, digital, analog, FM, IR, neckloop, feedback suppression, noise reduction, etc., then go to www.nchearingloss.org and open the consumers’ hearing loss glossary.

    Of course, another excellent resource is the website you’re reading at this moment (www.healthyhearing.com) . If you place any key words in the search engine, you’ll retrieve lots of useful information. You might also want to visit the section called “Testimonials” where you’ll be able to read the experiences of hundreds of people, who have already gone through what you’re going through. No one needs much training on how to wear glasses, but there’s a lot to learn about hearing more effectively with hearing aids and assistive listening devices.

  • Consider These Features: Hearing aids have several features you should understand. You may not need or want these features, but if you don’t know about them, you could be missing something that could help you hear a lot better than you can hear without such features.

    • Volume control: Some people think that the more automatic a hearing aid is, the better. Modern digital hearing aids are very good at keeping the loudness just about right where you want it…but sometimes you may want to turn it up or down. For some people with hearing loss, the ability to increase or decrease the volume is important. So you may actually want a volume control (VC). Many hearing aids offer them as an option, and even many automatic aids offer them as a manual override in case the automatically selected volume isn’t what you feel is best for you. People who are unable to properly control their hearing aid’s volume may be better off without a volume control, but many people appreciate having one. The VC is something you certainly should consider before ordering a hearing aid.

    • Multiple Microphone Noise Reduction: Some hearing aids have more than one microphone, which can filter out some of the background noise -- allowing you to actually hear speech better in noisy situations. These are referred to as “directional mics.” It’s one of the most effective and important features on hearing aids. If hearing in noise is one of your problems, this feature is a “must consider.” Directional mics are available on most BTE aids and on many custom-made in-the-ear aids.

    • Telecoil: A telecoil (T-coil) is nearly standard in most BTEs and is an option on some in-the-ear custom made hearing aids. T-coils “hear” magnetic signals, such as the signal transmitted by most phones, representing an audio signal. The T-coil is an important way to “couple” your hearing aids directly with audio sources such as the TV, telephones, and assistive listening devices. However, the smaller the aid is, the less likely it is to have a telecoil. When you couple your hearing aid directly to an input signal, you automatically eliminate background noise, you maximize the signal, and you get the best sound signal possible directly to your hearing aid. Many experienced hearing aid users will not buy a new hearing aid without a telecoil.

    These are not the only useful hearing aid features, but they are certainly ones you should understand when considering a new hearing aid. If you understand them and still decide against them, then fine. But you don’t want miss them because you didn’t know about them.

  • Get a Professional Audiometric Evaluation: Get a serious evaluation of your hearing, not just a “hearing screening”. Many places offer “free screenings” and that’s fine, but it’s not a thorough test of your hearing. Think about the value of the “free blood pressure” check at the pharmacy, as compared to your nurse or doctor checking it…big difference. A comprehensive audiometric evaluation may involve much more than measuring which tones you hear. Comprehensive evaluations typically include things like measurement and analysis of your eardrums and middle ear, a determination of how well you understand speech in quiet and in noise, whether your hearing loss is sensorineural or conductive, how well your auditory nerve is transmitting the signal to your brain, and how well your cochlea is functioning. And importantly, when you have a comprehensive audiometric evaluation, if any warning or danger signs are observed by the professional, they are obligated to refer you to an appropriate physician.

  • See an Ear Doctor: If you haven’t seen an ear doctor recently, do that. As noted above, some types of hearing loss can be a symptom of medical problems that require medical attention or intervention. In some rare cases, certain specific types of hearing loss can be treated medically or surgically, too. Your family doctor might be a great family doctor, but is probably not an ear specialist! Choose an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT), also called an otolaryngologist, or an otologist. Most of them have one or more audiologists working in the same office, so you’ll most likely see both at one appointment.

  • Shop Around: Prices of hearing aids, professionals, locations, sales and service policies are all important. Choose a provider you feel comfortable working with, and one who is willing to discuss options, and how your needs can be met within your budget. Ask about return policies. Ask which brands they recommend and why. Ask about payment options. Ask about aural rehabilitation (AR) programs. It is nothing less than remarkable – patients who go to few AR classes learn so much more about their hearing aids and effective and appropriate use for their hearing aids, that the return rate for these patients/consumers is less than half of the non-AR class attendees, and the AR attendees report much higher satisfaction from their hearing aid purchase.

  • Evaluate Your Hearing Aids During the Trial Period: If you’ve learned what you need to know about hearing, hearing loss and hearing aids, you’ll be well prepared to make a decision regarding the purchase of your hearing aids based on -- How does it improve your ability to hear in the situations that matter to you?

    It’s very important to keep records of what sounds are good and what sounds are not good, to explain to the professional what you like and what you don’t like, and then with this information, they can tweak the settings to make it better for you. Modern hearing aids are almost limitless in the settings, sound quality and loudness they can provide. Basically if the hearing aids fit well, they’re comfortable, and you like the way they feel, the professional can make them sound great…not on the first day, but over a few visits.

  • Take Good Care of Your Investment: Hearing aids are pretty durable, but there are some things that are bad for them. Dogs and cats love to chew them. It’s easy to leave your hearing aids in a pocket and send it thorough the washing machine. Bad move. Always place them in their case or the “dry aid” kit, and make sure the hearing aids are either in your ears, or in their storage container.
    Keeping your hearing aids dry on the inside can prevent corrosion. Keeping it clean and germ free can prevent ear infections.

  • Understand Your Warrantee: New hearing aids are usually covered for a year or more, so if you have a problem, then check to see if it’s covered.

    Also, if your hearing aid needs to be repaired, you may receive a warrantee covering the repair, even if your original warrantee has expired.

    You can usually purchase an extension to cover your aids after that original coverage ends. Check with your hearing aid provider to see if that’s a good idea for you.

  • Accept Your Hearing Aids: Some estimates suggest that when people buy their first hearing aid, they have waited about 7 years from the time they really needed one. Research also tells us only 20% of people who could benefit from hearing aids use hearing aids.

    One of the biggest reasons for these disturbing figures is denial, not just the cost of hearing aids. Hearing aids aren’t yet as “fashionable” as glasses, but they are getting there. A very similar situation emerged with glasses, many years ago, before they became a fashion statement. Almost everyone has heard Dorothy Parker’s famous quote: “Men don’t make passes as women who wear glasses”. That might have been true when Dorothy said it, but it’s certainly not true any more.

    Hearing aids are finally becoming more acceptable … even fashionable. Cell phones and personal music players are ubiquitous. Headsets, ear inserts, hands free sets, and even Bluetooth wireless connections to things that look like hearing aids are adorning even the youngest and “coolest” of consumers. Rock stars routinely wear “hearing aids” with wireless connectivity while on stage. Some rock stars also need real hearing aids, after being in all that noise, too.

    Hearing aid manufacturers are recognizing that hearing aids can be “cool” and don’t have to look like bland “flesh” colored appliances. These things will make it much more acceptable, even desirable, to wear hearing aids.

    SHHH is only a little over 25 years old, but as the premier organization for people with hearing loss, it’s already starting to help people actually accept and take charge of their hearing loss. That’s going to help broaden the market.

    As people accept and buy hearing aids in larger numbers, and as the technology stabilizes, the price will eventually come down. We’re already starting to see some low cost digital hearing aids becoming available.
Conclusion

If you demand the absolute best product you can get, it’s going to cost you more than the run-of-the-mill product. That’s true of everything, not just hearing aids.

One of the reasons that we have made so much progress in hearing aid technology over the last 20 years is because people who buy hearing aids have been willing to pay for that technology. It’s painful to pay that much, but there’s some comfort that the money is helping the industry make better hearing aids. I’m certainly happy that I’m able to buy a much better hearing aid today, than I was able to buy 20 years ago.

The most important thing we, as consumers, can do to help reduce the price of hearing aids is to broaden the market for them. If we can help make wearing a hearing aid as acceptable (even as fashionable) as wearing glasses, more will be sold, and prices will come down. So, wear your hearing aid with confidence, stop hiding them as if they were something to be ashamed of. You can help others see that hearing aids are not something to avoid.

If you’ve gotten this far and still want more about the cost of hearing aids, then check out the January-February issue of SHHH’s Hearing Loss magazine. That issue has several excellent articles by various hearing loss professionals. If you’re already an SHHH member, you’ve already got that issue. If you’re not an SHHH member, then go to www.hearingloss.org and ask if they’ve still got a back issue when you join.

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Steve Barber has gradually lost most of his hearing over the last 25 years. He’s retired from IBM and currently working as a software tester for SAS Inc.

Steve has been a volunteer/leader in Self Help for Hard of Hearing People for 14 years and he served as the chairperson for the North Carolina Council for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people during 4 of his 10-year tenure with that council.

He built and maintains the NCSHHH web site at www.nchearingloss.org and the Beyond-Hearing web site at www.geocities.com/nc-shhh/bhframe.htm.


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