According to the September 2015 PCAST report on the state of hearing technology, there are still millions of Americans with hearing loss that do not buy hearing aids because they simply cannot afford them. This is the bad news, and is truly an injustice to people who are simply hoping to hear better. Quite frankly, the act of hearing should not be a right dictated by financial considerations, most especially for our elderly demographic who deserve the respect of being able to age with dignity. Fortunately, there is some good news.
There Are Now Low Cost Options Available
Thanks to the growth of the Internet and technology in general, hearing aid buyers now have more selection, price competition and information available to them than ever before. While the high end hearing aids are still expensive, there is a wave of low cost ‘basic’ hearing aids now available on the Internet and they are much more affordable. In cases where the hearing loss in question is of the mild to moderate variety, there seems to be more options. However, more severe loss sometimes tend to need technology that is a bit more costly.
So the question becomes – “Is the high cost of expensive hearing aids justified or is it truly unnecessary and in truth causing many people to not purchase a solution to treat their hearing loss?”
Satisfaction With Expensive As Opposed To Low Cost
PCAST researchers found little difference in customer satisfaction between those wearing basic hearing aids priced in the hundreds and buyers who spent thousands. In other words, they were just as satisfied with product quality if they paid a lot or if they paid a little. However, it was also determined that the consumer who spent less money on his purchase, overwhelmingly felt that he received greater value for his purchase. This conclusion indicates that product quality is perceived to be nearly equal and there does not seem to be justification on the part of the consumer to be pressured into a high-dollar purchase for mild to moderate hearing loss.
Differences In Where To Buy Your Hearing Aids
Regardless of which hearing aids a person is interested in, the question of “How will I pay for them?” inevitably needs to be answered. The days of the local hearing store being the only practical means of purchasing hearing aids are gone. Today, the typical hearing aid buyer has more options for “where to buy” and each option may affect how the hearing aids are priced and can be paid for. Whether it’s a point of sale purchase with a credit card, an insurance reimbursement, a payment plan or other financed option, finding the right affordable solution needs to be of utmost importance for the consumer.
Here is a brief explanation of where a person may buy hearing aids;
Over the Internet – For most people this is the easiest method. From the convenience of their home, people can browse the web and find a wide selection of hearing aids in all price ranges and research them to their hearts content. This allows a person to find as much detail about “which hearing aid is best” as they wish. Also, most companies doing business on the Internet now provide buyers with customer reviews to help with buying decisions. Therefore, by doing enough homework before purchase it can lead to substantial savings for the DIY type person. When a person is ready to buy, they simply answer a few questions and complete their purchase online. In a few days, their hearing aids arrive in the mail – and that’s it. There are generally some adjustments required for optimal performance that can be done by the user instead of them “stopping by the office” for a hearing aid adjustment, but for the most part the process is simple – and it works well.
Local Providers – The benefit of buying hearing aids from local hearing centers includes professional help with selection, fitting, and future adjustments from “live”, in person hearing consultants, trained to help you find the right solution. However, this level of service does come with a price, usually a hefty one. Other negatives include a selection limited to a single brand that the hearing center is affiliated with, listening to only one sales oriented professional’s opinion, and paying for bundled services that often go unused. This is the most expensive option and is very driven by customer care. Many customers leave their appointment with a hearing aid recommendation in hand that is often accompanied with sticker shock due to quoted prices of several thousand dollars for their hearing aids.
Internet/Local Provider Hybrid – This method combines the main benefits of the other two; local service, Internet prices, and a wide selection. Internet hearing aid providers compete in the world marketplace where prices of all hearing aids brands are listed. In this world, the consumer is in charge of choosing whether or not to bundle their hearing aids with an included amount of local service that best suits them - from minimal to comprehensive. Keep in mind that some people and hearing losses, require more attention than others. The consumer can save money with this method by purchasing their name brand hearing aid from a national retailer for a much lower cost than the local provider is charging, but still retain some of the local services involved with fittings, cleaning and office visits.
There’s no question that self-managed Internet research can help reduce hearing aid costs, however at the end of the day payment is still required. When there is simply an insufficient supply of cash available what other payment options are available to help a person that needs hearing aids?
Oftentimes it may become necessary to ask for assistance from a family member to purchase hearing aids. However, if that is not an option, there are many other avenues for obtaining financial assistance. These opportunities can vary according to the individual and their situation. This makes it important to research all options available for assistance before purchasing. One thing to keep in mind - hearing aids are medical devices and any out-of-pocket money spent on them is tax deductible if you itemize on your tax return.
Sources & Ideas Available To Help Make Hearing Aids A Bit More Affordable
- Check with your insurance provider. Many insurance companies offer health or wellness type plans that can pay directly or offer reimbursement for hearing aids. Oftentimes there are eligibility requirements attached to these, so it’s best to speak to your provider for the options available to you.
- Medical flexible spending accounts. Some employers may offer Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) through company health plans that allow you to put money into an account that can be used to pay for copayments, deductibles, some drugs, and some other health care costs. Using an FSA can reduce your taxes. The cost of hearing aids and batteries qualify for these accounts. Check with your employer for more details.
- Medicare and Medicaid. In general, hearing aid expenses are not covered by Medicare. In some cases, there may be a Medicare Advantage Plan available that could offer assistance. Also, in some states Medicaid may cover hearing aids for lower income people. Each state's requirements differ, so the best advice would be to check with your plan administrator or visit www.medicaid.gov
- CareCredit. This a patient finance program that works like a credit card and is available for exclusively for healthcare services including hearing and vision care, dentistry, veterinary and more. There are no fees or upfront patient costs and monthly payment options are available. Call 1-800-677-0718 or visit www.carecredit.com for more information.
- Assistive Technology Loan Programs. The RESNA Alternative Financing and Telework Technical Assistance Project (AFTAP) is available in many states and offers assistive technology financial loan programs. Program details and availability differ by state and in general they offer disabled residents affordable loans to assist with purchasing assistive technology including hearing aids. Visit www.resnaprojects.org/afp/index.html for more information.
- Paypal Credit. While it is not designed specifically for healthcare use, many people are unaware that Paypal offers a financing option that can provide payment flexibility that differs from an ordinary credit card. Visit www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/paypal-credit for details
- Veteran benefits. The Veterans Affairs (VA) is one the largest providers of hearing aids in the US. Hearing loss connected with military service often qualifies veterans to get their hearing aids through the VA. Check with your local VA to see if you might qualify to receive hearing related benefits. See www.va.gov or call 877-222-8387 to check your eligibility.
- Federal employee assistance. Federal employees and their families may be eligible for the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program offered through Blue Cross Blue Shield (BC/BS). This program offers hearing aid coverage for qualified members.
There are many local, state and national charitable organizations that will provide new or used hearing aids at a discount for people that meet financial criteria. These opportunities are too numerous to list individually, however some to consider include Easter Seals, Knights of Columbus, Lion’s Club and Sertoma. To find out what may be available in your area try searching online for the name of your city or state and terms such as hearing aid charity, hearing aid financial assistance, or hearing aid funding.