The following article was originally posted on the Hearing Care Blog. We’re reposting it today because it is a great explanation of the costs associated with getting new hearing technology.
By: Bettie Borton, Au.D., FAAA
Doctor of Audiology
Doctors Hearing Clinic
7025 Halcyon Park, Suite A
Montgomery, AL 36117
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When I talk with patients or family members who have hearing loss, I hear a lot of grousing about the cost of the hearing aids purchased. I mean, those hearing aids are so TINY, they look so fragile… and you’re telling me they will cost HOW much?? Sound familiar?
Consumers seeking hearing healthcare help are often surprised at the cost of today’s sophisticated hearing technology. And that’s understandable. A high quality digital hearing aid usually costs between $1000 and $3000, sometimes more when paired with sophisticated bluetooth technology or other assistive listening devices. And in Alabama, hearing devices are also subject to sales tax.
So, is this investment “worth it” ? When assessing the value of hearing aids, it’s important to consider the many market variables inherent to pricing, including the following:
- Hearing aids are medically regulated devices. As such, the manufacturers who produce these devices are subject to regulation by many organizations, including the FDA, FTC, and FCC. Like many other products in the U. S. marketplace, having to meet regulation specifications by governmental agencies seldom lowers costs, and almost assuredly raises them. As regulated devices, the cost of the research and development (AKA “R & D”) required to bring these products to market is significant, and results in products being more pricey.
- What does R & D cost, and why is it so important? Consider that the “Big Six” (or the top 6 hearing aid manufacturers in the United States today) spend roughly $500,000,000 annually on R & D, which is quite a lot. To be precise, that figure is 14% of their combined budgets. To put this into perspective, let’s do a percentage comparison. All of us would concede that Apple is certainly cranking out state of the art technology, and undoubtedly this costs the company in terms of product research and development – but by comparison, Apple expends only 2% of its total budget for R & D.
- Remember that to date, hearing aids are the only medical devices that involve coupling an electronic device to a sensory organ. This is not an easy task. Today’s instrumentation is incredibly sophisticated, with increased chip speed and capability. Today’s hearing devices are certainly not your grandmother’s hearing aid! Nevertheless, this type of electronic capability comes with a price… it’s expensive to bring these products to market, and market share remains limited.
- Hearing aids still have a fairly low market penetration. Of the 37 million Americans who might benefit from amplification, only about 1 in 5 actually utilize the available hearing technology. We have not seen the same price reductions that are inherent to widely used electronic devices like TV’s, computers, cell phones, etc., found in virtually every household. So, what’s the result? Without sufficient market penetration, the product pricing remains higher for everyone.
- The price you are quoted for hearing aids is seldom “unbundled” – this means that the cost for services of the audiologist or hearing healthcare provider, warranties, repair coverage, etc. is usually “bundled” into the price. Consumers often forget that there are dispensing fees inherent to well fit hearing devices. Are these fees “worth it”? To answer that question, we need only consider success rates (or lack thereof) for some of the “unbundled” personal sound amplification products or hearing aids such often sold on the internet, whose return for credit rate is upwards of 60%!
Is the price tag for quality hearing devices worth it? Let’s consider the alternative…
Untreated hearing loss results in billions (that’s right… I said BILLIONS) of dollars in lost productivity in the U.S. workforce today. To be exact, unaddressed hearing loss results in 23 billion dollars of lost efficiency/productivity, which costs all of us in the long run. And of course, without today’s sophisticated hearing device capability, the loss in communications ability, life style preservation, and a myriad of other quality of life issues, even for those not employed, costs our society a great deal indeed. There is also a significant body of research that suggests that if you have hearing loss, waiting to get hearing aids can actually compromise word recognition ability. As this data indicates, delaying amplification is not without its own inherent cost.
So, despite the fact that the price for hearing aids may be steep at first glance, there are some very good reasons why costs may be higher than we’d like to see. If cost of recommended hearing technology is a concern for you or your family member, talk to your audiologist and explore possibilities for financial assistance or alternative technologies.
About the Author: Dr. Bettie B. Borton is a licensed audiologist in Alabama, and was the first audiologist in Montgomery to hold certification by the American Board of Audiology, and is the only audiologist with such certification in private practice in this area. Dr. Borton holds a BS degree with CED Certification in Education of the Deaf from the University of Texas, a Masters degree in audiology from the Louisiana State University Medical Center, and a Doctor of Audiology degree from the the University of Florida. She was a clinical audiologist in the Department of Surgery at UAB between 1990 and 1995, and provided patient care services in The Kirklin Clinic.
She has served as a Visiting Professor, teaching associate and Supervising Clinical Audiologist at Auburn University, as well as a Supervising Clinical Audiologist at Auburn Montgomery. Dr. Borton was a charter member of the Alabama Academy of Audiology (ALAA), and served as President of this organization. She has also served on the Board of Governors for the American Board of Audiology (ABA), and is the former National Chair of the ABA. Dr. Borton is currently the CEO and Director of Doctors Hearing Clinic, a full service private practice in Audiology. In April of 2010 Dr. Borton was elected to the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Audiology, and will serve a three year term in that capacity. She is the first (and to date, only) audiologist from Alabama to have been elected to the Academy Board. Dr. Borton was honored as a 2010 recipient of the prestigious Oticon “Focus on People” award, which annually recognizes 12 individuals across the nation for their dedication to helping those with hearing impairment.