Hearing loss has been established as one of the more easily modifiable risks for preventing dementia, falls and depression. Nearly one in four people ages 65 to 74 and half of people over age 75 have disabling hearing loss. And while hearing aids remain the best solution to improve hearing, only 16% of those under 69 – and fewer than one in three over 70 – use them. The chief reason for lack of adoption? Cost.
Hearing aids are often not covered by many insurance plans, and current prices vary widely—starting at $1,500 and going up to $8,000 for some models.
So, why are hearing aids so expensive? Technology and services (like testing, education, fitting and follow-up exams) are the main drivers of cost, according to Tom Powers, expert audiology consultant to the Hearing Industries Association. Features that drive up price include size, charging (many hearing aids no longer rely on batteries but are charged like smartphones), better directional microphones, more channels for noise reduction and feedback.
Considerations before you buy a hearing aid
Consider these pre-purchase steps:
- Get a checkup. See your doctor to rule out correctable causes of hearing loss, such as earwax or an infection.
- See an audiologist. If you don’t know a good audiologist, ask your doctor for a referral. An audiologist will assess your hearing, help you choose the most appropriate hearing aid, and adjust the device to meet your needs.
- Be aware of trial periods. Have the dispenser put in writing the cost of a trial, whether this amount is credited toward the final cost of the hearing aid, and how much is refundable if you return the hearing aid during the trial period. Most states require a minimum 30-day trial period for hearing aids.
- Think about future needs. Ask whether the hearing aid you’re considering is capable of increased power so that it will still be useful if your hearing loss gets worse. Hearing aids do not function indefinitely but should last about five years.
- Examine warranty details. Some dispensers may include office visits and professional services.
- Plan for the expense. Professional fees, remote controls, hearing aid accessories and other options may cost extra.
- Know what options are included and ask about return policies.
- Beware of misleading claims. Hearing aids can’t restore normal hearing or eliminate all background noise. Don’t be fooled by the terms “FDA registered” or “FDA cleared.” Companies sometimes use tricky language to imply that their devices have been carefully reviewed by the FDA.
- Consider customer service. You may prefer to buy from a company that offers more support, such as consultations with an audiologist over the phone or online.
“The two critical components in planning for any hearing aid purchase are a hearing evaluation and consulting with a hearing specialist that offers fitting and follow-on services,” said Phillip Orso, an audiologist and founder of Makehear.
Tips to save money on a hearing aid
Once you’ve had your hearing evaluated, understand your specific needs and are ready to buy, these tips can help you identify the best options for your budget:
1. Go for lower-cost hearing aids
Many customers want the latest technology but you can often achieve optimal hearing from lower-cost aids. While all manufacturers have established different performance levels, many lower-cost devices provide high-end features that could only be found in premium aids a few years ago.
2. Ask for discounts
The current economy has also impacted hearing care professionals who might be willing to provide discounts. Asking local providers if they offer discounts can potentially save hundreds of dollars.
“Be prepared that some providers may not be willing to discuss pricing on the phone,” Orso said, “and if discounts on hardware can be negotiated, providers may cut back on programming and follow-on services.”
3. Ask for unbundling
Bundling is the practice of including fitting, programming, follow-up visits, annual checks and accessories in the total cost of hearing aids. Markups can average 300%. Many providers are willing to unbundle packages, but you’ll pay for additional services when you need them. This may not save money in the long run but can help defray the upfront costs of hardware.
4. Check online referral services
5. Research insurance options
Certain Medicare Advantage plans offer coverage that reduce the cost of hearing aids. Additionally, certain states have laws that require coverage of hearing aids for people of all ages. If you have private insurance, check if there’s a provider network before buying hearing aids.
6. Consider Costco hearing aids
Big-box retailers are able to offer lower prices due to volume purchasing power. Costco Hearing Aid Centers are one of the biggest success stories in the hearing aid industry, accounting for nearly 20% of all hearing aids sold in the U.S. But remember: You’ll need to buy an annual Costco membership to take advantage of hearing aid purchases and services.
“Costco hearing aids can be a great deal, but getting proper fitting and follow-up services can be a gamble as it depends on the Costco professional that performs them,” said Orso. “Costco Hearing Aid Centers are staffed primarily by licensed specialists who aren’t required to have a degree in audiology. You can get lucky and find a good specialist, but there is a chance you may not find the best one to provide the fitting you need.”
7. Research direct-to-consumer brands
For best outcomes, have your hearing checked by a professional before buying online. Keep in mind some hearing specialists won’t provide programming or other services for aids purchased online.
Brands like Bose, Eargo or Audionexx offer products for mild-to-medium hearing loss. Other top-rated online brands include Lexie and Lively. Many direct-to-consumer brands offer online hearing tests, but experts note these tests don’t use sophisticated equipment and results may be inaccurate.
8. eBay: Buyer beware
Hearing aids can be found on eBay—and you’ll likely find older hearing technology for low prices. Refurbished hearing aids can be sold legally, but each aid must have packaging and a tag attached to the device that clearly declare the aid is pre-owned. However, be prepared that aids may be defective or may not be the exact model described. You’ll also need to visit a local hearing care professional for programming and services: The FDA requires that hearing aids only be sold to customers who have had a medical evaluation within six months prior to sale. If you do purchase pre-owned aids, it’s important that earmolds be replaced or sterilized by a professional hearing aid center. Counterfeit aids are a known problem, so be aware you may be buying an inferior device with no possibility of having the hearing aid programmed or serviced.
9. Check VA options
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers limited coverage of rehabilitative and prosthetic devices. If you’re a veteran seeking to access this benefit, you must complete a registration at your chosen VA Medical Center. If an audiologist determines you have a clinical need for a hearing aid, the VA will provide both the device and repairs to the device for free—as long as you maintain VA eligibility.
10. Bypass unnecessary features
Although it can be tempting to buy hearing aids with wireless connectivity or direct audio input, choosing one that fits your base needs can save money.
11. Research payment plans
Ask about payment, subscription or leasing plans that spread out the financial burden over time. Whisper.ai, for example, uses a subscription model where users pay $139 a month and benefit from periodic software upgrades.
12. Explore charitable aid
The Lions Club collects and distributes donated hearing aids, or you can find help through local or state departments on aging. National charitable foundations offering assistance include The Hearing Aid Project, Foundation for Sight and Sound, Starkey Hearing Foundation and Miracle-Ear Foundation. The National Institutes of Health also provides resources through The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.