Hearing aid prices are sky high: is my realative being ripped off?
January 16, 2014 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I have an elderly relative living in Florida who has serious hearing loss. She just scrapes by on Social Security, and her hearing aids cost a fortune. How come?

For the second time in about seven years, she has had to pay more than $4200 for a pair of hearing aids (Miracle Ear 5100XP). On the one hand, she'd say any cost is worth it to hear better, but on the other, this is a huge chunk of her overall savings and I am concerned that perhaps some unscrupulous dealer is taking advantage of her.

Can these things really be that expensive? Is there a better way to purchase them, other than from retail stores? Does the Hive Mind think this sounds about right, or does it sound like someone is taking advantage of her. If so, what is my next step if I want to try to help?

I've searched here for more insight, and did find this helpful answer from several years ago. What else can you tell me?
posted by Right On Red to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, that's slightly less than my father's hearing aids cost in Canada.

His are paid for as part of a workers compensation claim related to his work in a noisy environment, and it seems likely that Workers Comp has a pretty good idea what these things are supposed to cost.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:22 AM on January 16, 2014

Most hearing aids are sold for a stupidly large mark-up, yes. This article suggests that CostCo may be a more affordable option.
posted by rockindata at 10:22 AM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

I just recently learned about how expensive hearing aids are. A family friend says he bought his four years ago for $8000. And this is a penny-pinching man who doesn't spend money frivolously, so I'm sure he did his research. Crazy expensive!
posted by Grither at 10:32 AM on January 16, 2014

My father has hearing aids and yes they are ridiculously expensive. He just switched over to hearing aids from Costco which were about half the price of the previous ones he had.
posted by Empidonax at 10:42 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's high because they can get away with it: it's a niche market with a captive audience. Prices on wheelchairs and lifts are similarly inflated; as are drugs that aren't widely used. As a societal thing, it's disgraceful, but this vendor isn't doing anything they don't all do, so they're not being ripped off in that sense.
posted by tyllwin at 10:48 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Walmart sells hearing aids for much, much less than that.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:15 AM on January 16, 2014

Nthing everybody else- my father wears hearing aids and I was shocked at the prices. He, too, went the Costco route.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:15 AM on January 16, 2014

Same here; I know people who've bought them in three different states in the US and it's been the same every time.

Just make sure that she gets as much out of this as she can on her taxes next January.
posted by SMPA at 11:21 AM on January 16, 2014

If there's one nearby, have her make an appointment with the hearing aid department at Costco. They re-brand Siemens hearing aids, and sell them at prices that significantly undercut almost every other vendor, even when you factor in the cost of the Costco membership. My grandmother was initially suspicious, but this article ended up convincing her to give it a shot. She's had hearing aids from Costco for about 6 months now, and is very pleased with their quality, and even more pleased that she didn't feel ripped off buying them.

Note that she'll need to get a prescription and testing data from her doctor before heading to Costco.
posted by BrandonW at 11:31 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can certainly find cheap hearing aids. But...

A good, actual hearing aid costs between $3,000 and $6,000 an ear. You are buying a very advanced piece of technology that has a major impact on your life. As with everything else, you get what you pay for in a hearing aid.

You should not purchase hearing aids from a salesman at Costco or Walmart or Miracle Ear or some other retailer, or if you do, do not do so without consulting with your audiologist or ENT. Costco et al do not generally employ actual CCC audiologists. It is a scam. You really are paying a thousand dollars for a glorified microphone from these places. You are paying for sub-par technology, programming and fit. It is best to go to an actual audiologist and get a proper hearing aid. She may qualify to have one ear covered by medicare or insurance.

Yes, they are expensive. Good hearing aids are advanced medical equipment that have cost billions in R&D, like a drug or other medical technology. The $800 ones you get off the internet or at a big-box store are a joke. Like glasses, hearing aids need to be fitted for the individual.

Will the cheapo ones make things louder in her ears? Probably. But that is not the goal of a hearing aid. In fact, having the wrong kind of aid can actually make your hearing worse.

Hearing aids are absolutely not just microphones in your ear. They should be programmed specifically for your personal hearing situation. The package she receives should include follow-up care with the audiologist.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:34 AM on January 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

Chiming in as a hearing aid wearer here -- yes, they are ridiculously expensive. Like I could buy a good used car or new hearing aids expensive. But without them I could not function in the hearing world -- we hard of hearing are a captive group for the insane markups.
posted by Lescha at 11:38 AM on January 16, 2014

From a user who would prefer to remain anonymous:
Hi there I used to work for a company that makes the chips that go into hearing aids and I can confirm, the components are dirt dirt cheap (can be sub $1 per component, maybe as high as $5). Yes there is R&D expenditure of a few million dollars but the actual mfg costs are cheap. Then they turn around and charge whatever they can get away with; I dunno, say $20-$100 to whoever assembles the device (adds the plastic and the battery). Competition erodes those prices, they used to charge more! Therefore the actual components are less than $50-$100 I would guess if you were to snatch it off the mfg assembly line. Then it is sold to the audio company for a markup, and then to your relative. Also there is the cost of the time of the audiologist to test her specific frequencies of hearing loss so that they can tweak settings on the chip specific to your relative, and the audiologist generally has a master's degree of some sort and they need to make some money too. But none of this justifies the incredibly high price. It's all just "hey because we can!" markup and I am sorry that this is such a breath-taking rip-off expense, compared to what it "ought to" cost, and that it impacts the vulnerable people on social security. Shop around as best you can.
posted by jessamyn at 11:38 AM on January 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

Obviously there is a mark-up. People in the chain have to make money. But it's also worth noting that hearing aid technology has become really pretty amazing in the past 10 years. R&D costs are way above 'a few million,' and audiologists have 4-year doctorates now. Like I said, they are expensive, but the notion that you are paying $3k for a glorified microphone and amplifier is completely false.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:50 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've worn hearing aids since age 5 and I totally agree with Lutoslawski. You get what you pay for and $4200 is not out of line at all. I would not trust someone from Walmart with my safety and enjoyment of life.
posted by desjardins at 11:56 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can try these hearing aids from MDHearing.

They are only a few hundred dollars and are high quality devices. Unless you have severe hearing loss or an unusual case, they will work fine. You can try them and if they don't do the job, you can return them for refund. For most people there is no need to spend thousands of dollars on hearing aids.
posted by JackFlash at 12:08 PM on January 16, 2014

Unless you have severe hearing loss or an unusual case, they will work fine. You can try them and if they don't do the job, you can return them for refund. For most people there is no need to spend thousands of dollars on hearing aids.

All cases of hearing loss are unusual. There is no 'regular' hearing loss. If you care about your hearing life, these are probably not for you. Okay, I won't say anymore about it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:15 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

From the mdhearing page:" (the founder) was looking for a “one-size-fits-most” hearing aid simlar to reading glasses that can easily be purchased at the drug store. "

My aids are customized to me because the frequencies I hear are unique to me. I've had to wear a loaner aid while mine was being repaired and, while I managed not to walk in front of a car, it was not the quality of life i wanted to have.
posted by desjardins at 1:14 PM on January 16, 2014

I must agree with Lutoslawski -- you do get what you pay for with hearing aids.

Analog (cheaper) hearing aids simply amplify sounds. When digital aids came on the market -- I was born with my hearing loss and used analog aids back in the day -- it was revolutionary for me.

I do get irked that they make a huge dent in my bank account about every 3-5 years, but I don't know where I would be without them -- especially as my hearing gets worse as I get older. I know I can't skimp on the cost, as the results would be awful.

I would never trust my hearing to a non-professional. My audiologist -- a highly trained medical professional with a PhD -- is truly an amazing ally.
posted by Lescha at 1:22 PM on January 16, 2014

Nthing Costco. My dad got his in Florida and paid half what the hearing clinic in here in Canada was asking for the exact same model. His was still around $2500 though.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:33 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything except what I've read about either of these companies:

Embrace Hearing

but they both claim to have hearing aids that are the equivalent of the very expensive ones for a much lower cost. Embrace Hearing also has a blog where they discuss hearing aid prices in quite a bit of detail.

I haven't looked into these, but I do plan to before buying any new ones. If you're interested, one place to start might be Hearing Aid Forums.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 5:40 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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