Why Do Hearing Aids Cost So Much?
The sticker price of digital hearing aids still seems to shock even the well-educated consumer. Many hesitate to invest in such products because of the price. When the newspaper is peppered with enticing advertisements about low cost hearing aids, clients question the prices they paid elsewhere.
Honestly, basic hearing aids can be built for a low cost. Only four basic components are needed to build a basic hearing aid: a microphone to pick-up and translate sound into electrical impulses, an amplifier to make the electrical impulses stronger, a receiver or speaker to translate those stronger impulses into louder sounds to be delivered to the ear, and a pre-wired faceplate to connect all these components together.
Anyone can purchase these generic components and put them together to produce a unit that amplifies sound. There is even a company locally that does this routinely. There are many reasons, however, why good quality hearing aids cost as much as they do and why you should want to invest in a hearing aid built by a reputable manufacturer.
Remember the adage, "You get what you pay for." Ask someone who has listened to one of these home-made or generic hearing aids. They sound awful. Most people who purchase these types of hearing aids regret their decision. They end up putting these aids in the dresser drawer because the sound quality is so appalling, the craftsmanship so poor, and they lack the knowledge of how to effectively use the device.
Manufacturers spend an enormous amount of time and money on the research and development of digital hearing aids before they are released to the public. The three main companies that we work with at Kaczmarski Hearing Services reportedly spent $20-30 million each on the research and development of their latest product. Developing new hearing aid technology is not just about electronics any more. Medical research is a new area of cost for manufacturers. It is necessary for scientists to gain a better understanding of the complexity of the cochlea and effects of hearing loss on the hearing organ in order to develop better products. Computer scientists and engineers must use the medical research to develop miniaturized computer chips and formulas that the hearing aids use when amplifying sound. They also must design software for the audiologist to use when programming and adjusting these computer chips within the hearing aid. It can take years of developing and redesigning to generate a new product. Manufacturers are continually striving to produce a product that amplifies sound more naturally, clearly, and comfortably, and is able to make speech more audible in the presence of background noise.
Learning to use the hearing aid manufacturers design, whether you are a first time user or you are upgrading to substantially higher quality, takes time. It is hard to teach old dogs new tricks, as the saying goes, and some people take longer than others at adjusting. Even the most independent do-it-yourself type of person can benefit from someone who really understands hearing loss and hearing aids. During the adjustment period, it helps to have a qualified, reliable audiologist available. They will help you decide which of the problems you are experiencing are related to the hearing aid itself, which will require adjustments of the aids, and which are related to relearning, requiring your brain more time to adjust.
The amount of time an audiologist spends with someone learning to use a new hearing aid is significant. At Kaczmarski Hearing Services, we average five direct contact hours during this critical learning period. The only hearing aid course you could take that would provide you with the same benefits as working with a certified audiologist is offered only at Central Michigan University, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, or Western Michigan University. It is a minimum of 24 months, is highly intensive, and will cost you a few thousand dollars. In the end, however, you will have the minimum amount of training required to be an audiologist – a Masters degree. No matter how we say it and whether you like it or not, part of the cost of your hearing aid pays for the audiologist. To maintain the leading edge in hearing aid technology requires state of the art equipment and training, rent, and lights; all so you have a reliable place to go to for adjustments, counseling, and repair.
Having a good quality product from a reputable manufacturer and a qualified and reliable audiologist is only part of the picture. Consumers must make that initial step toward pursuing amplification by contacting an audiologist. While there are an estimated 28 million people with hearing loss, less than 21 percent of them are wearing a hearing aid. That leaves a staggering 75 percent of those who would benefit from hearing aids who are not wearing one. While this is a frightening statistic, it is the root of the problem. After a manufacturer releases a new product to consumers, they must spend more money marketing the instrument.
Years ago when microwaves first came out, they were huge and expensive. As more people purchased them, manufacturers were able to design a smaller version and retailers were able to sell them for much less. We are not seeing the same trends in the hearing aid industry. Consumers want more out of their hearing aids yet the number of consumers investing in the products remains stagnant. Phonak's marketing director, Laura Voll, feels that there is a huge growth potential for the industry; however, the companies must first find a way to target and educate the consumer about the differences an effective hearing product can make on their relationships and in their lives. Until more consumers are willing to base their investment in a product that is going to improve the quality of their life and those around them instead of price, the price will not drop.
The elevated price that seems to accompany this marvelous technology is definitely worth every cent. Especially when you compare it to other expenditures families experience these days. The average cost of one digital hearing aid can range from $1500 to $3500. Take the average cost of a top of the line digital hearing aid - $3199.40, divide that cost by 5 years (the lower end of the life expectancy of a hearing aid) and it computes to $639.88 a year or $53.88 a month. The amount of money most people spend monthly for cable, movie rentals, movie theater tickets, cell phones, magazine subscriptions, and restaurant bills well exceeds $53.88.
Audiologists, like consumers, are concerned about keeping the cost of hearing aids affordable. We would love it if more people could benefit from the technology because communication is one of the most important skills humans possess. It is important to make an educated decision concerning your hearing loss and hearing aids. Hearing aids can offer significant benefits to those with hearing loss, more so than ever before. When purchasing a hearing aid try not to be driven by the cost of a hearing aid. Remember the reason you are purchasing the hearing aid to begin with: to better communicate with your family and friends.