Around 37.5 million American adults have some degree of hearing loss. Many would benefit from hearing aids, but only one in four use them. In some instances, the high cost of hearing aids may be a barrier to getting them.
Hearing aids are FDA-regulated medical devices that are worn in or behind the ear. Whether you can easily afford them or not, hearing aids can be expensive. On average, a set of hearing aids may cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, or more.
Hearing aids vary significantly in cost, but this doesn’t always reflect their overall effectiveness. Like most things that we want to fit to our bodies, what works for one person may not work for another.
In some instances, more expensive hearing aids may come with high-end features, such as Bluetooth wireless connectivity or tinnitus masking.
Types of hearing aids
There are several different styles:
- behind-the-ear hearing aids (BTE)
- in-the-ear hearing aids (ITE)
- in-the-canal hearing aids (ITC)
- completely in canal hearing aids (CIC)
No matter how they’re worn, each style has the same basic parts and works in a similar way.
In 2015, a report on hearing technologies was compiled by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. This report identified several factors that escalate the cost of hearing aids. These factors include:
- lack of health insurance
- improved innovations in technology, but not reduced consumer costs
- bundling of costs associated with hearing aids (discussed in detail, below)
- manufacturing and sales practices, plus state regulations that inhibit consumers from cost-comparison shopping
These sales practices pertain, in part, to hearing aid dispensers who work with just a few handpicked manufacturers. When this happens, you may not be offered a complete range of hearing aid brands or models, including those that are budget priced.
Hearing aid manufacturers may also have a very high markup on their base costs, which include parts, manufacturing, and salaries. These costs are built into the price of hearing aids.
The full cost of hearing aids may include services and add-ons. This common practice is called bundling or bundled pricing.
Bundled pricing vs. unbundled
Bundled hearing aid costs include line items such as:
- hearing test
- consultation with a professional, such as an audiologist
- fitting and adjustments, as needed
- hearing aid cleanings
- a warranty that may include a one-time replacement of hearing aids
When costs of hearing aids are unbundled, you have the ability to pick and choose the line items you wish to purchase. This may reduce your overall cost.
Your location and health professionals
Other factors that affect the price of hearing aids include your state of residence, and the hearing aid dispenser (audiologist) you are working with.
There are online retailers, such as Audicus and Yes Hearing, that sell hearing aids. Some manufacturers sell their own devices, too. Most online retailers are able to work with an existing copy of your audiogram (hearing prescription). Some provide free online hearing tests or phone consultations with a specialist.
Very few insurance plans cover the full cost of hearing aids, although some insurers provide partial coverage.
- Deals at some stores. Many people report getting better-than-expected deals through wholesale clubs and at big box stores.
- Online stores. Online retailers may also provide cost savings by cutting out the middle man and by showcasing a large variety of models and brands for you to choose between.
- Certain Medicare coverage. If you know you need hearing aids and are eligible for Medicare, shop for a Part C plan that covers the cost or partial cost of hearing aids.
- HSA or FSA, with insurance coverage. If you currently have a high-deductible health insurance plan, you may be able to benefit from using a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) so you can pay for your hearing aids with pretax dollars.
- Ask for the itemized breakdown of costs. Ask your hearing aid dispenser to give you the unbundled breakdown of costs for your hearing aids. If there are items you feel you do not need, do not buy them.
- Choosing basic models. Eliminate expensive bells and whistles, such as Bluetooth capability and voice recognition.
- Clubs, organizations, or associations you may be part of. Check to see if organizations you belong to, such as your school’s alumni club, provide discounts on hearing aids.
- Insights from health professionals. If cost is a barrier, talk to your doctor, nurse, or audiologist. They may be able to identify affordable hearing aids that are priced within your budget. They also may be able to point you toward leasing options that allow you to make low monthly payments, rather than paying the whole sum up front.
Some hearing aid manufacturers provide payment plans that allow you to make monthly payments over a set amount of time, such as one year.
Be wary of “health care credit cards.” These can have terms that make them hard to manage or pay back, such as interest rates that change and are high.
Organizations like Help America Hear work with people of all ages who have limited means.
Over-the-counter hearing aids are a new category of hearing aids that are not yet available to consumers. When they are made available, they will be regulated by the FDA as medical devices designed for people with hearing loss.
Currently, the hearing devices you are able to purchase directly, without getting examined first by an audiologist, are personal sound amplification products or PSAPs.
PSAPs are not hearing aids and are not recommended for people with hearing loss. They’re designed for people who wish to amplify sounds in noisy environments, such as parties.
Unlike hearing aids, PSAPs are not FDA-regulated medical devices.
They’re less expensive than hearing aids, but can’t provide the same benefits to people with hearing loss. PSAPs can’t distinguish or separate speech from noise. They also cannot be customized to meet your specific needs.
PSAPs may even cause damage to hearing, due to the increase in sound volume they provide.
Hearing aids are FDA-approved medical devices designed to improve hearing in people with hearing loss.
Hearing aids can be very expensive. Many, if not most, health insurance plans do not cover hearing aids. Neither does Original Medicare.
There are strategies for reducing the cost of hearing aids. Financing and payment plan options may be available.
In some instances, your audiologist may be able to help you identify hearing aids that are affordable for you.