Hearing loss can be frustrating and isolating. You can’t participate fully in life when you can’t hear what’s going on around you.
Fortunately, technology has transformed hearing aids. The newest contain microcomputers to deliver accurate sound and comfort without the kind of aggravating feedback problems common in older models.
At the high end, hearing aids can be costly, but many people get satisfaction with midrange or budget hearing aids, and relatively cheap sound amplifiers can help people with mild hearing loss.
Here is how to shop wisely.
First, get a medical examination, preferably by a board-certified ear, nose and throat physician (ENT).
This exam should determine whether your hearing problem can be medically treated before you spend thousands of dollars on hearing aids. Workplace insurance may cover the exam. Medicare Part B insurance covers diagnostic hearing exams ordered by a doctor but does not cover routine hearing tests, hearing aids, or exams for fitting hearing aids. (Here are the rules, at Medicare.gov.)
If your doctor recommends you pursue hearing aids, the next step is a hearing evaluation. This is a thorough assessment of your hearing by an audiologist or a hearing-aid dispenser who is credentialed in your state to measure hearing, fit hearing aids and sell them.
What they recommend will depend in part on what type of hearing loss you have. Costs vary, but expect to pay around $150 to $225 for the evaluation, according to the University of Texas‘ Callier Center for Communication Disorders.
Because these are such costly products, deal only with reputable professionals. Check dealers’ names against records of complaints at your local or state consumer protection agency (find it here at USA.gov), state attorney general’s office, state licensing agency or the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. You can find certified audiologists, credentialed professionals trained in evaluating hearing and fitting hearing aids in your area at the ASHA website.
Shop smart to cut costs
Hearing aids are costly. Respondents to a Consumer Reports survey paid $2,691 out of pocket on average for a pair.
When shopping for hearing aids, follow these tips:
- If you feel sales pressure, leave and shop elsewhere.
- Look for hearing aids with trial periods of 30 to 60 days.
- Find out how much money you’ll get back if you return the product during the trial period.
- Get all promises and guarantees written into your purchase agreement.
Other ways to hold down cost include:
1. Shop online. If you are comfortable shopping online for something as individualized as a hearing aid, it can be a path to serious savings.
In a major departure from tradition, many global manufacturers are now embracing direct-to-consumer online sales, according to AARP. That can help trim costs.
2. Negotiate. If you are shopping in person, be sure to ask for a better deal. Nearly half of the 14% of Consumer Reports survey respondents who asked for a discount were successful.
Also, compare prices at warehouse sellers such as Costco. They tend to have competitive prices, and some have on-site audiologists.
3. Consider analog. Digital hearing aids tend to be more expensive, but they are not always better. Ask your seller to show you comparable analog units.
Ask for the manufacturer’s technical specifications for both models and compare the maximum amplification (shown in decibel levels or dB) for each.
4. Try a personal amplification device. Advances in Bluetooth and other technologies are giving a boost to “personal sound amplification products” or PSAPs (or “sound-enhancers” or “personal listening devices”). Like hearing aids, these relatively inexpensive devices fit in your ear to amplify sound. You can program your own settings through a Bluetooth app.
Note, however, that PSAPs are not hearing aids. They work for people without serious hearing loss who just want things a bit louder.
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson, with 50% hearing loss in one ear, uses a $350 PSAP called the Sidekick. He likes it for watching TV. His wife likes it, too, because he can turn up the volume for himself without affecting her.
“I have never used a hearing aid, so I can’t compare,” Stacy says. But if you think a PSAP might help, why not try one before spending thousands of dollars out of pocket on hearing aids?
Where to get help covering costs
Some organizations and insurance plans will help with costs under certain circumstances. Here’s a rundown:
- Medicare: No coverage for hearing aids, although your evaluation may be covered with a doctor’s order.
- Medical insurance: Most insurers don’t cover hearing aids, but there are exceptions so check your policy. And some states require insurers to provide adults with hearing aid coverage.
- Lower-income assistance: Some states cover hearing aids for Medicaid recipients.
- Veterans: Qualified military veterans can get hearing aids nearly free of charge from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. See eligibility criteria here, at the VA website.
- Flexible spending accounts: Medical expenses considered deductible by the Internal Revenue Service that are not paid by your medical insurance are eligible for reimbursement from a flexible spending account.
“You can include in medical expenses the cost of a hearing aid and batteries, repairs and maintenance needed to operate it,” says IRS Publication 502: 2014 guidance on deductible medical and dental expenses.
What is your experience with a hearing aid? Share with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.
Kari Huus contributed to this post.