Big Savings on Hearing Aids

Man uses an ear trumpetA friend of mine recently saved 90% on his first hearing aid! Here’s what happened: He had noticed some hearing loss in one ear, and the audiologist he visited suggested a single-ear aid. But the problem was the price. The one that was recommended cost $4,000! And Medicare and most private insurers do not cover hearing aids. Many patients would have bit the bullet and paid the $4,000…or simply gone without a hearing aid (a bad decision). But instead, with some creative shopping, this person was able to buy a good hearing aid for $400, and a local audiologist programmed and fit it for less than $100. What my friend did: He found lots of used hearing aids online but ultimately found a one-year-old aid that his neighbor was getting rid of after purchasing a newer, more sophisticated model.

• Check national warehouse stores. Costco and other warehouse stores now sell top brands of hearing aids at up to half off list prices. These aids are fully warranted (with the same warranty periods offered on hearing aids sold by audiologists), and an in-house hearing aid technician will test your hearing and fit you. Even though these technicians don’t have as much training as an audiologist, they are generally qualified to do basic hearing tests and fittings. Free follow-up appointments are also provided.

• Try a community-service organization. Working with local audiologists, organizations such as the Lions Club (LionsClubs.org) and the Starkey Hearing Foundation (StarkeyHearingFoundation.org) have programs that provide refurbished or new hearing aids for people who cannot afford retail prices. The hearing aids are sold at a drastically reduced price or sometimes are free. You may be asked to show proof of your financial need—for example, a Medicaid Benefit Identification Card.

• Look for a used hearing aid online. Many used hearing aids are offered for sale on eBay and Craigslist. But before you tell yourself that you’d never consider buying a used version of an item that is so personalized to the user’s needs, hear me out. As with any other purchase you might make on eBay or Craigslist, you must do your homework. For example, before you start shopping online, you need to get a hearing evaluation from an audiologist. This is usually covered by your insurance. Ask him/her what type of hearing aid is best for you—for example, behind the ear or open fit in the ear canal. When the audiologist recommends the type of hearing aid you need, he will likely also suggest a few good brands. You can then check for those types and brands on eBay and Craigslist. Before making a purchase, get a written agreement from the seller (it may be a private party or a company) that the hearing aid is returnable within 30 days if any defects are found. Then, after you make the purchase, take the hearing aid to an audiologist for cleaning and reprogramming based on your specific type and degree of hearing loss. This final step should cost only about $100.

Source: Charles B. Inlander is a consumer advocate and health-care consultant based in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania. He was the founding president of the nonprofit People’s Medical Society, a consumer advocacy organization credited with key improvements in the quality of US health care, and is the author or coauthor of more than 20 consumer-health books.

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