It’s not uncommon to hear questions about the cost of hearing aids. After all, during this year’s Amazon Prime Day, which ran from June 21-22, over 150 “hearing aids” and “hearing aid amplifiers” were sold online for as low as $13 per aid with the Prime Day discount. Many of the items listed had a very similar appearance to traditional hearing aids but in most cases were “personal sound amplifiers”, a category of devices meant to amplify sounds for recreational activities and not regulated by the FDA*. Some ads also claimed to include features such as rechargeability, dual microphones, and noise cancellation. Adding to the confusion are devices advertised on TV, the newspaper, or in online ads from companies wanting to sell products that are “significantly reduced or a fraction of the cost” of going to see a hearing care professional. Many of the products you see for sale online are not cleared by the FDA and are being sold without regulation, which is a risk that can potentially do more damage to your hearing. In recent months, 16 State Attorneys General have issued consumer alerts urging citizens to exercise caution when purchasing Direct to Consumer hearing products given the growing popularity, availability, and confusion about the products. It is important to remember that hearing aids are medical devices that currently must meet FDA standards/regulations to be safe and effective for the wearer. This is meant to protect you – the consumer.
So how are hearing aids developed and what are the associated costs?
Today’s hearing aids are the result of extensive investments in research and development.
The process starts with focusing on a problem, such as improving hearing in background noise, incorporating new technologies like artificial intelligence or rechargeable batteries, or reducing hearing aid feedback. The research team spends time understanding the problem and finding safe and effective solutions for consumers in different environments. Usually, several approaches are developed and each one must be tested to determine what would provide the best benefit to the consumer. This could involve up to 100 engineers working for months on projects, which contributes to the cost of the device.
Once a concept device is created, all of the equipment, processes, and quality standards need to be developed and assembled to begin manufacturing. This involves more engineers and, if the feature includes marketing claims related to improved speech intelligibility, clinical trials or testing on hearing impaired individuals may be necessary.
When the hearing aid device is ready to launch, the product management and marketing teams develop and execute the launch plan. As in any business, a manufacturer will then incorporate various tasks including customer service, information technology, product and software training support, and after sale support teams to guide the new technology from its launch to training assistance and troubleshooting throughout the life of the hearing aid. The cost of research, development, manufacture, and distribution of hearing aids up to this stage accounts for a portion of the total final cost.
But that is only part of the hearing aid cost journey since additional hearing care services will need to be factored in. To provide the best health outcomes for their patients, the hearing care professional must have the equipment to conduct hearing tests, test the hearing aid to ensure it meets the published specifications, and to verify the hearing aids are fit to the patient’s unique hearing loss. All of this work is done in the hearing care professional’s office, which accounts for another portion of the product’s final price, including costs for the equipment as well as rent, heat, lights, staff, batteries, accessories and other expenses.
As you can see, these miracles of technology collect a lot of human and machine capital along their journey from the initial idea to the final hearing aid that reaches an individual. A portion of this cost is generated within the manufacturing environment and a portion is generated within the retail site where the hearing aids are fit and the patient is cared for. Today, hearing aid satisfaction is at 83%, an all-time high, with hearing aid owners wearing them an average of 10 hours per day. The satisfaction rates reflect the quality services of a hearing care professional and the hearing aid performance.
What can you expect to pay?
Consumer Reports states the average price of a single hearing aid to be approximately $2,400, which means many are sold at prices less than this. For example, you can find high-technology hearing aids for $1,400 a pair at some retail stores that provide both the device and the services of a hearing care professional. Prices can vary depending on the technology incorporated into the device. Generally speaking, there are basic, mid-level and premium devices, with premium devices offering the most features. Our advice is to meet with a hearing care professional to have your hearing tested and become educated about the degree of your hearing loss, your specific needs for improved hearing, and learn more about the options, costs, and benefits of various hearing aids available today.
We believe in the end that the value of hearing aids lies in the improved communication it allows us to have with our loved ones, and is an important investment to keep you safe, healthy, and connected to your daily routine. For more information about hearing health, visit www.betterhearing.org
* In 2017 we started the journey towards Over the Counter (OTC) hearing aids, and we unfortunately are still waiting for the FDA to release those regulations. In the meantime, a new distribution channel for hearing aids has grown, the Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) channel where hearing aids are mailed directly to the buyer without the need to see a professional.