How can something so small be so expensive?
“Dr. Gessert, if the hearing aids are so small, why are they so expensive?” To answer this question, let’s first back up and understand what a hearing aid really is. A hearing aid is a FDA medical device that must meet certain requirements to be labeled and marketed as a hearing aid. Up until a few months ago, any hearing amplification device that was sold over the counter could not be called a hearing aid as they did not meet FDA requirements. These devices were relatively inexpensive because they were NOT hearing aids. Amplification devices simply make everything louder. They are not prescribed to your hearing loss and needs.
There are only 6 major hearing aid manufacturers in the world. Because there are so few manufacturers, there is little competition. With little competition, there is little reason for them to bring the price of hearing aids down. When a new start-up company enters the field and begins to make noise in the hearing aid market, that company is bought out by one of the existing manufacturers.
Although there are only 6 major players in the hearing aid marketplace, each hearing aid company puts a lot of money into research and development. Some companies put more money into research than others, but this research is expensive. The hearing aids are getting much more sophisticated than they ever have been before and this is simply due to the research that has or is taking place. Manufacturers are already working on what they think will be needed 2 to 3 years down the road. Hearing aids are now able to change settings automatically. This means when the listening environments change, you no longer have to press buttons to change the settings on your hearing aids. The hearing aids are now Bluetooth-compatible, meaning they can pair with cell phones, laptop computers, televisions, etc., making each one of these situations easier to hear and understand. This research and development is a necessary evil that increases the cost of hearing aids.
In 2021, a total of 4.7 million hearing aids were sold. It sounds like a big number, but it is small when compared to the number of cell phones (300 million), laptop computers (340 million) and automobiles (16 million) sold during the same time. Hearing aids are not mass produced like these above-mentioned items and because of this, they are simply more expensive. Actually, for the number of laptops, cell phones, and automobiles sold, one would think these items would be less expensive, but that is not the case.
To me, the biggest reason why hearing aids are so expensive is the fact that when we as Audiologists or hearing aid dispensers purchase the hearing aids from the manufacturer, we pay retail prices. When I sell a hearing aid to a patient, the patient receives much more than just the hearing aids. Patients receive professional fitting, programming, follow-up visits and reprogramming the hearing aids when necessary. This is called bundled pricing. The patient pays one price for the hearing aids and all follow-up visits during the warranty period are included in this initial price.
Some clinics do not bundle the services with the cost of the hearing aids. The upfront cost may be less, but the patient must pay each time he or she visits the office for any evaluation or service for their hearing aids.
Recently, hearing aids were made available to purchase over the counter. If you have questions about those – or any – hearing aids, please call Integrity Hearing Center in Troy or Hermann. We’re happy to talk to you about hearing aids!