Even if your hearing is perfect now, it almost certainly won’t be forever.
Nearly 25% of those aged 65 to 74 have disabling hearing loss. By age 75, about half of us will.
But audial help doesn’t come cheap. Hearing aids cost an average of $2,400 per device—$4,800 if you need them in both ears. And most insurance providers and traditional Medicare do not cover any of the cost.
I have some experience with this, since my husband wears a $3,000 Oticon hearing aid in his left ear. He cleans it regularly and stores it every night in a small, electronic dryer. This effort has paid off, as his current device has held up for six years. That’s an antique in the world of hearing aids.
Even so, our hope is that he can get another year or so out of it—especially since there are recent shifts in the market that could finally drive down the price of these devices.
Why hearing aids cost so much
Until recently, all hearing aids were considered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be a medical device, which must be sold by a licensed hearing professional.
When it comes to the devices, there’s not much competition. Just a handful of manufacturers hold about 98% of the hearing aid market.
Moreover, found the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, many audiologists receive commissions from product sales. They typically sell hearing aids as part of a “bundle”—meaning they sell you both the cost of the device and all of the services related to it, such as fitting and follow-up care, as a package.
In 2017, however, the FTC approved a new law that allows some hearing aids to be sold as over-the-counter (OTC) devices. Eventually, advocates say, that should lead to greater transparency in pricing, as well as lower-cost options.
But that time could be more than a year and a half away. The FDA has until August 2020 to propose new safety and labeling regulations for OTC hearing aids—and then there’s a 180-day public comment period before the FDA can publish the rules. After that, manufacturers will need some time to adjust products and marketing to comply with the regulations.
How to get a better deal
Until OTC devices become available, try these options to lower your costs.
If you have mild hearing loss: See if there’s an OTC device that can meet your needs. “Some people just require a little bit of amplification,” says Dr. Tricia Ashby-Scabis, a practicing audiologist and spokesperson for the American Speech-Language Hearing Association. For that, you can buy a PSAP, or personal sound amplification product.
PSAPs can be marketed only as sound amplifiers for people with normal hearing to use in specific situations like hunting. They sell for as little as $29.99 to more than $300, at such stores as Walmart and Amazon.
Even more basic measures may help, too. The free app EarMachine, for example, will amplify sounds when you’re listening to podcasts, music, or talking on a smartphone.
Even if you’re only experiencing mild hearing difficulty, it’s still worth checking in with an audiologist. Most insurance providers cover the cost of a hearing exam, and an audiologist will look at your overall health to determine if a medical condition like diabetes is affecting your hearing. They can also help you program your PSAP or other OTC device, too.
If your hearing loss is more severe: Shop around. Costco has more than 500 hearing aid centers in the U.S., and CVS Pharmacies has rolled out 50 Hearing Aid Centers in eight states. Both offer free screenings and the ability to purchase a hearing aid directly, typically for a much lower price than you would spend buying one from an audiologist.
Also, make sure that you’re not paying for pricey equipment you don’t need, such as Bluetooth capability. “Buying a hearing device is like buying a computer,” says Ashby-Scabis. “You can get one for a couple hundred that just does basic things like email, or you can spend more to do things like gaming and graphic design.”
It’s also possible to negotiate. Audiologists are sometimes willing to unbundle their services so you don’t have to pay for extra services that you to don’t need. One survey found that nearly half of hearing aid shoppers who tried to negotiate a lower price were successful.
This story has been updated to add information from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association about how hearing aids are priced and sold. Comments from Dave Hutcheson, a spokesperson for the Hearing Loss Association of America, have been deleted.