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Medicine The Almighty Buck Technology

Is There a Hearing Aid Price Bubble? 698

Posted by timothy
from the what's-it-worth-to-ya? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The price of a pair of hearing aids in the U.S. ranges from $3,000 to $8,000. To the average American household, this is equivalent to 2-3 months of income! While the price itself seems exorbitant, what is even more grotesque is its continuous pace of growth: in the last decade the price of an average Behind the Ear hearing aid has more than doubled. To the present day, price points are not receding — even though most of its digital components have become increasingly commoditized. Is this a hearing aid price bubble?"
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Is There a Hearing Aid Price Bubble?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:03PM (#37358548)

    It's absolutely disgusting how expensive these things are. I think it may be worth it to note that the site in question is in the business of selling their own hearing aids, though...

  • by PCM2 (4486) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:06PM (#37358570) Homepage

    I remember my mom and her husband went on vacation and had some trouble with his hearing aid. Basically, he plugged it in to recharge it and the charger burnt out; it could only handle U.S. voltages. The couple staying in the room next door saw the blackened charger sitting in front of their door and asked what had happened. They found the whole thing very strange. They were European, and their hearing aid charger could adapt to any global voltage, and they had never heard of one that worked otherwise. If I remember right, the woman's own hearing aid was also significantly higher-tech than my mom's husband's. It was not only smaller, but it fit deep into the ear canal (I'm not talking about a cochlear implant, this was a hearing aid). The important thing here is that my parents, living in the U.S., had neither seen nor heard of either technology. Their doctor had given them a couple of choices for a hearing aid and they chose the better one -- which obviously wasn't as good as what you could pick up in Europe. I don't know what they paid for the hearing aid, but it seems to me like something funny is going on.

  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:11PM (#37358628) Homepage
    I wear hearing aids in both ears, as a souvenir of my time in the Navy back in '72. If my hearing loss weren't service connected I'd have had to buy my own, and there's no way I could possibly have afforded them. As it is, I got them from the VA (The biggest buyer of hearing aids in the USA.) for free. Hearing aids are overpriced because it's a seller's market and health insurance companies are willing to shell out whatever the manufacturer asks. And, of course, if your insurance doesn't cover them, you're stuck with two unpleasant choices: either you pay full retail price or you do without.
  • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:37PM (#37358856) Homepage

    This.

    Say what you will about financial motivation, but for-profit healthcare is a morally bankrupt and ultimately self-defeating strategy. I'm fine with the doctors and professionals getting paid, everyone needs a job, but these people should not be greedy middlemen in the sales industry. They're not "adding value", they're double-dipping.

  • by garcia (6573) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:38PM (#37358866)

    It's like this for everything. We had a baby 1.5 years ago. He wouldn't breastfeed so my wife rented a hospital grade pump to do the hard work.

    Our insurance didn't cover it 100% because it wasn't "medically necessary" (they'd rather you use formula) and it would have been around $125/month out of pocket for us.

    We told the medical equipment company we didn't have insurance and suddenly the price was just under $60/month. What does that mean? They overcharge the insurance companies by at least 3x what their actual costs are because they can.

    Our insurance companies aren't exactly the problem. It's the companies that the insurance companies pay. They're robbing us all blind.

  • by gd2shoe (747932) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:39PM (#37358874) Journal

    Actual capitalism is fine in medicine. Fraud, bribery, corrupt regulation, and general unchecked avarice drive up prices. We need fewer medical regulations, and more white collar crimes police units.

    Where capitalism has absolutely no place is insurance. Private insurance, yes; for profit insurance, are you @#$% kidding?!?

  • by PCM2 (4486) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:51PM (#37358970) Homepage

    well you pay for the medical professional's advice and consultation outside the already incredible price for the hearing aid, so charging $2000 for a $100 device is really just an incredible abuse of power. This is why for profit medicare sucks.

    It may be an abuse of power, but I don't know that it's the doctor who's the abuser. Doctors are probably forced to buy everything through "the approved channels" -- they can't just fly someone to China and come back with a suitcase full of $100 hearing aids, and they're probably not even allowed to distribute literature to patients about shopping for a grey market hearing aid on their own. So if a patient has to go to a U.S. doctor, then the patient has to pay the U.S. price.

    It is funny, though. My parents, who are fairly Republican and were vehemently against "Obamacare," are already driving to Mexico to fill their prescriptions, where they cost something like 70 percent less. For some reason, my parents cannot see the doublethink of voting against healthcare reform despite the position they find themselves in. I think it's just the paralysis of fixed income -- you're so desperate to protect what you have right now that you will resist any change -- even though, deep down, you can feel the vice tightening around you.

  • by joocemann (1273720) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:58PM (#37359020)

    So why is it that single payer non-profit health insurance is 40% LOWER in cost than *ANY* for profit insurer out there?

    You've expressed that it will win, but you've got NO FACTS to show. In the US, insurance is largely FOR PROFIT. Please demonstrate one company where they charge LESS than can be achieved by single-payer..... I'll wait... Matter of fact I"ll check for your response in a week because I know you won't find ANYTHING. If what you said was true, people would be using that insurer like crazy!

    Get out of your utopian head and back to reality. Capitalism in medicine is criminal.

  • That's nothing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fished (574624) <amphigory AT gmail DOT com> on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:14PM (#37359150)
    I have a bill here from LabCorp. Price before insurance: $327.60 (for some routine bloodwork.) Price after insurance "adjustments": $14.88. So it's not just that they overcharge, it's that they deliberately overcharge the uninsured who have no idea what anything should cost.
  • by Qzukk (229616) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:57PM (#37359420) Journal

    Setting aside that we're getting off topic since hearing aids aren't covered by a lot of insurance companies, insurance companies want prices to be high (since their contracts get them out of paying full price). They want you to be scared of the ER bogeyman. Your trip to the emergency room could cost you TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS (oooOOOoooo). Buy our insurance now! For only $10k/yr, we'll pay half your ER trip, (after the first $5k deductible and subject to your unconscious body being taken by in-network ambulance drivers to an in-network hospital where you are seen by in-network doctors and treated with in-network drugs). Whatta deal!

    If insurance companies wanted to make medicine cheap, they could invest in drug development, invest in new treatments for expensive diseases, invest in more hospitals, and so on.

  • by Adambomb (118938) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:27PM (#37359844) Journal

    Simply put, but this is the actual answer to the question posed in the summary. The cost of health service and supplies are greatly inflated in the states compared to most of the modern world. I don't mean in the sense of "oh, in other countries it's paid for by taxes" sense or the "yeah but it is inferior quality care" sense but the actual amount that the provider gets paid for exactly the same supplies or service, regardless of who is paying it in the end. As an outsider looking in at America i really do not understand how the health provider industry in the states managed to pull it off.

    Americans are getting ripped off on health care hard, to the tune of 2 to 10 times the prices paid out to suppliers or service providers in other countries. I think given the amount of discussion on HOW or WHO will be paying for health care in past years, some groups had to be lobbying very hard to keep the topic of "Why is it so damned expensive here to begin with" out of the limelight.

    And they succeeded.

  • by rcpitt (711863) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:50PM (#37359956) Homepage Journal
    My wife has a hearing aid - so I'm sensitive to this.

    When she got it, we were fairly well off - just sold a company and to be frank, I didn't notice how much it cost.

    recent problems with it put me on the front lines - and getting a bill for $800 just to fix is gave me a lot of angst. I have to say I railed at the person on the front counter quite a bit considering I know a lot about analog, digital, integrated circuits, and such - and basically told her that IMHO the components she was quoting as retail in the $3000 range were worth about $10 or less.

    Then she loaned us an "over the ear" unit while the in-the-ear one was out for repair - and when I went to give it back, said "keep it" - so confirming that the actual hardware cost is trivial (unit is about 3 times the size of the current one but otherwise similar capabilities - and given the progress in IC units, represents maybe 3 years' progress)

    So... when I heard an ad on the radio last week for an in-ear hearing aid for $500, I figured "about time" and so the poster is correct - there is a revolution coming.

    Question is - what patents will be held over the heads of those trying to break this cartel - because it truly must be a cartel.

    Note that I can now (despite the eye-glass cartel of yesteryear) purchase more than useful eye-glasses in various basic diopters at the local dollar store - to the point where I have enough around the house that I have achieve "maxiumum vapour pressure" of eye-glasses (i.e. there is a pair at hand any time/where I need them)

    richard

  • by imroy (755) <imroykun@gmail.com> on Saturday September 10, 2011 @03:07AM (#37360776) Homepage Journal

    And try to get one of these digital hearing aids through the gummint. Ain't gonna happen.

    It does here in Australia [wikipedia.org]:

    The Australian Department of Health and Ageing provides eligible Australian citizens and residents with a basic hearing aid free-of-charge, though recipients can pay a "top up" charge if they wish to upgrade to a hearing aid with more or better features. Maintenance of these hearing aids and a regular supply of batteries is also provided, on payment of a small annual maintenance fee.

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