The Price of Hearing

Audiology Now!, the hearing aid industry's largest annual convention has just concluded. For the first time, in a long time, the biggest issue was the high cost of hearing aids. The industry has for years been lobbying the US Congress to include hearing aids as a medical cost which would be covered by insurance. While this is a laudable endeavor it has largely fallen of deaf ears. The only hearing aids that are 100% covered by insurance are those purchased by veterans through the Veterans Administration. There are a few health insurance plans that do offer a hearing benefit but it is usually a discount–25% is a pretty common one–on the retail price of the aids. This is not a huge benefit when you consider that the average cost of a pair of good quality hearing aids is around $5,000. For someone on a fixed income, $4,000 or $5,000 or even more for a premium set of aids is a lot of money. 

Hearing aid pricing has remained stubbornly high and it has resisted Moore's Law which states that for devices that are powered by integrated circuitry, and hearing aids certainly are, the power and quality of doubles every two years. There is an unstated corollary that this phenomenon produces a downward pressure on prices. Hearing aids have certainly improved over the years but not they have not improved by leaps and bounds like personal computers. And the prices have never dipped.

A growing new category, called Personalized Sound Amplification Products (PSAP), has entered the marketplace to satisfy a growing need for hearing help that is also affordable. Part of the problem is that hearing aids are closely regulated by the FDA. PSAPs are not regulated. The quality of some, not all, of these products has reached the point where individual consumers purchase them on their own without the assistance of an audiologist or licensed hearing aid dispenser.  The secret behind the price of hearing aids is that most of the price is not the hardware; it's the service and assistance that is needed to program the hearing aid to the individual hearing loss of each wearer. This won't change any time soon, but it does look like the age of self diagnosis for simple amplification has arrived.