The Healthcare Consumer shops for hearing aids

If you’re in the age group that is just now beginning to regret listening to those loud rock concerts of your youth, you’re in good company.

About one in six boomers have a hearing loss according to the Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit educational group financed by the hearing aid industry.

The AARP reports that there are more people between the ages of 45-64 with hearing loss than those over age 65.

If you or someone close to you believes they may need hearing aids, your first stop should be to a physician to get a medical exam.

They might refer you to an audiologist who would perform a more comprehensive evaluation. If they conclude that hearing aids are recommended, it’s especially important to become an educated consumer. We’ll tell you here what you need to know.

First, the basics

There are three types of hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss generally results from wax blockage, punctured eardrum, infection, or damage to the inner ear that prevents normal functioning of inner ear structures. Many conductive hearing problems can be improved or corrected with medical treatment.

Sensorineural (“nerve”) hearing loss is most commonly caused by aging, exposure to loud noises or trauma such as a blow to the head, or damage to areas of the brain that work with the ear to interpret sound. This type of loss may be treated with a hearing aid.

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural types and is treated accordingly. If a hearing aid is called for, two general styles of hearing aids; behind the ear (BTE) and in the ear (ITE). There are variations, advantages and disadvantages of each.

Insurance doesn’t usually pay for hearing aids

Hearing aids require a prescription. Audiologists often sell hearing aids or partner with a licensed hearing aid retailer.  Unless you’re a child under age 13 in Connecticut or a veteran, expect to pay for your own hearing aids as most insurance plans don’t cover them.

Prices often range from $1,000 to $7,000 or more depending on the type of hearing loss you have and the hearing aid you select. But you might not need anything nearly so costly. In our research consumers often pay more than necessary or may be victimized by unscrupulous dealers.

Why are hearing aids so expensive?

As with many other areas of health care, high hearing aid prices can be attributed to monopolistic pricing and regulations that discourage competition.

A hearing aid consists of a small microphone that amplifies weak sounds through a small speaker. Unlike the routine price decreases that we’ve come to expect from other electronic devices like cell phones, computers and televisions, the price of hearing aids have actually increased.

Surprisingly, its own industry trade association has concluded that hearing aid manufacturers could help more people, sell many more hearing aids and make more profit if prices were reduced.

There are some hearing aid-type devices that like reading glasses, don’t require a prescription and offer benefit at substantial savings.

These devices are made by companies including Maxisound, Nexear and Songbird. Prices for these types of aids range from $80 to $500 each.

They can generally only be purchased online, but all are sold with money-back guarantees. So for mild to moderate hearing loss, they’re worth a try and may be a good bet for your money.

Here’s an interesting tidbit that can help you understand the hearing aid industry better.

A study conducted and reported on in a recent issue of the American Journal of Audiology concluded that these over-the-counter type hearing aids “don’t work well and could potentially damage a persons hearing”.

The kicker is that study was funded by the Oticon Foundation, manufacturer for Oticon brand hearing aids. We suspect the eyeglass industry said many of these same things about reading glasses when they first began to be sold over the counter.

Be a smart shopper

Following a principle you’ll hear us frequently refer to; you will get the best care if you do your research and ask the right questions.

It’s especially important for hearing aids since in addition to dealing with your hearing, it’s also likely you’re spending your own money.

When the results of your exam indicate that you might benefit from a hearing aid, consider the following factors: Hearing aids are sold (“dispensed”) by licensed audiologists and by retailers who have relationships with audiologists. That opens the door wide to potential kickbacks, and referral fees in exchange for recommending higher priced models. This can result in your paying prices higher than you should.

Five important rules to follow

•    Rather than relying on the yellow pages, ask friends and family for recommendations as to where they’ve purchased hearing aids.

•    Beware of suspect advertising claims such as “Thousands of dollars off” a digital hearing aid, “25 people needed to participate in hearing study”, “buy one get one free” and “We offer Medicare discounts”. Unfortunately, all are common gimmicks

•    Keep the medical recommendation from your medical practitioner or audiologist separate from their brand, model and style recommendations. Rather, ask what features and specifications they recommend in a hearing aid for you. Then, shop based on your own price, service and style preferences.

•    Insist on at least a thirty day trial period. Some dealers may charge a 5-20% service fee on returns. If you are a Costco member (see shopping tips below), we favor them, because the hearing aids they sell fall under their standard “if you’re ever dissatisfied for any reason, we’ll take it back” policy.

•    Some dealers charge a fee for creating the custom molds into which the electronics of the hearing aid goes so that it fits properly in your ear. Others don’t.

Three great shopping tips

If you’re a member and your local Costco warehouse club (www.costco.com) has a hearing aid center; (about half of them do), we recommend that you consider them; especially their house-branded aids.

They’re top quality, made by a leading manufacturer and can save you 30% or more over a name brand hearing aid. Each Costco hearing aid center staffed with a licensed audiologist (always ask for a licensed audiologist).

Hearing Planet is an online retailer with a twist. You can shop online, but since it’s unlawful to actually sell them online, they have partnered with local dealers who have agreed to sell at negotiated, web prices.

One final thought… If hearing aids can help you hear better, please consider them. The stigma associated with wearing a hearing aid is largely gone.

Well-known celebrities who have been helped by hearing aids include President Bill Clinton, actors Lou Ferrigno and Richard Thomas, and U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf. These days, it’s so common to see people with earpieces plugged into one ear, who knows whether they’re talking on the phone or just improving their hearing.

The Healthcare Consumer is written by Larry Berk and Delaney La Rosa,RN,  healthcare and insurance professionals with over 25 years of combined experience.

Larry is the President of VidaCura.com a health and wellness products company. VidaCura can be found online at www.vidacura.com. Delaney spent several years’ performing healthcare fraud investigations and is a registered nurse.

Got a question, comment or suggestion for a column? Write to them at thehealthcareconsumer@yahoo.com.

Additional information about hearing loss & prevention

Some initial signs of hearing loss to watch for include ringing in your ears or “tinnitus”, increasing inability to hear well in groups or in areas with background noise, and frequently turning up the T.V. volume. Many people don’t even realize they are experiencing hearing loss until a family member recognized the symptoms. By the way- tinnitus can be caused by other medical conditions and medications- that’s why we recommend you check in with your physician as a first step.

Preventing hearing loss is a life-long process. The easiest way to protect your hearing is to reduce or avoid exposure to noise. Heavy machinery, loud music, engines, or even exposure to a one-time extremely intense noise can cause hearing loss. It’s most common for hearing loss due to noise to occur slowly over time as long-term exposure causes destruction of inner ear mechanics. If you live or work in a high noise area, use ear protection. Basic ear plugs used to reduce noise (say, if your sleeping partner snores) won’t protect your ears while using landscaping equipment or other high-decibel machinery.

Examples of other factors leading to or predisposing a person to hearing loss include having family members with hearing loss, taking medications that can be toxic to the ear, recurrent ear infections, and a previous history of damage to your ear drum.

Here are some tips for communication and hearing loss

•    Make eye contact and devote your full attention to what it being said by the hearing-impaired individual. This is especially important for those individuals who rely on watching your lips (speech reading).
•    If you are unsure what the speaker has said, try re-phrasing instead of repeating just the words you’ve heard. This will help ensure that the meaning behind the words is being accurately conveyed
•    Avoid trying to appear as if you understand when you do not. This may result in hearing-impaired people withdrawing from conversation.

Here are some valuable resources if you would like to learn more

Federal Trade Commission information on hearing aids: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/health/hea10.shtm
Better Hearing Institute: www.betterhearing.org

Low cost, nonprescription hearing aids:
Maxisound: www.sonictechnology.com
Nexear: www.nexear.com
Songbird: www.songbirdhearing.com

Hearing Planet: www.hearingplanet.com

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3 Comments on "The Healthcare Consumer shops for hearing aids"

  1. ctwatchdog.com to GoogleReader!

  2. Cabela’s sells a number of hearing amplifiers at extremely good prices. I regularly use mine. I had it in tonight and could hear a crow “cawing”. I turned it off and I couldn’t hear the crow. Turned it back on and there he was!

    Unlike some of the amplifiers advertised online and on TV (the batteries are good for 300 hours but can’t be replaced), the batteries in the amplifiers at Cabela’s are totally replaceable.

    The amplifiers are reasonably priced, starting at about $15 and going up to the $500 range. Mine cost $150 plus tax. You can check out the products at Cabela’s website.

    Cabela’s also has a very liberal return policy. I believe it’s a 30 day return policy on the amplifier and they don’t mind if the ear piece has been used (how else will you know if you like the amplifier?) and a nasty ear piece in no way voids the return policy.

    I’ve used my amplifier regularly since May and am very happy with it. And, no, I am NOT Cabela’s employee–just a satisfied customer.

  3. I know this is a second post on this topic by me, but I found an even better supplier than Cabelas–although I have no beef with Cabelas. I opened an Ebay account and, on a lark, entered Walkers Game Ear in their search engine. I wound up buying two more amplifiers for about $100 a piece, shipping included. I am very happy with my amplifiers and I am in no way, shape, or form associated with Walkers. The best thing about them is that I can purchase the replacement batteries anywhere and they are standard hearing aid batteries.

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