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Medicine The Almighty Buck Technology

Is There a Hearing Aid Price Bubble? 698

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 Codger ( 96717 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:06PM (#37358568)

    You, sir or madam, are ignorant. Most insurance plans don't cover hearing aids. And try to get one of these digital hearing aids through the gummint. Ain't gonna happen.

  • by Cyclopedian ( 163375 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:07PM (#37358586) Journal

    Most insurance plans do not cover purchases of hearing aids.

  • by sehlat ( 180760 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:11PM (#37358626)

    Insurance doesn't "buy them" and much depends on what your plan is and/or covers.

    In my own case, I needed one hearing aid. Total price $4k. My insurance covered exactly half of that. I'm glad to have it, but what we still have here is an FDA-controlled cartel. There is the "Why not jack up the price."

  • by joocemann ( 1273720 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:25PM (#37358748)

    No. Healthcare costs are where they are because the CAPITALISM factor is involved.

    With Single Payer Non-Profit, you can expect a 40-50% decrease in total cost to insure. Modeling after Canada's cost/person, a reduction from $1.5TR/250M-people to $1TR/300M-people is possible. That means the 250 million that pay for insurance are paying 1.5 TRILLION a year for shoddy, exclusion rich, insurance when the sum of all Americans, 300 million people, would be paying 1 TRILLION to cover everyone without any exclusions or b.s. trickery.

    I've talked to over 40 canadians about how they feel about their single-payer system and NOT A SINGLE ONE agreed with the US-paid-pundits that lie about how canadian's don't like their healthcare. Matter of fact, more than 25% of them laughed when I first asked, knowing that I had been exposed to the US-paid-pundits and required truthful answers.

  • by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <dfenstrate@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:29PM (#37358788)

    'Full Retail Price' in the medical world is often less than you would imagine. Hospitals routinely offer a 30% or better discount for paying in cash. Many medical establishments are likely the same way, for the same reason- dealing with insurance companies, medicare, or the VA requires a great deal of administrative overhead.

    Yes, I've asked a few times. The next few times you find yourself in the business office of a medical establishment, ask them what the cash discount is. You might be surprised at what the typical response is.

  • Re:Hmmm. (Score:5, Informative)

    by jasno ( 124830 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:45PM (#37358930) Journal

    65? I'm around half that and I'm about ready for a hearing aid. A friend of mine who works on his house more than me needed one about the same age.

    Kids, protect your hearing. It sucks to lose the ability to hear people in a crowded room. Especially you crazy maker-types running to the saw to make a few cuts. Get some foam earmuffs, the kind used for shooting, and put them next to the saw. Use em *every* time.

  • by DdJ ( 10790 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:51PM (#37358968) Homepage Journal

    Hm... seems like an opportunity...

  • by joocemann ( 1273720 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:54PM (#37358996)

    You're too dim to understand the difference between non-profit and capitalism.

    Non-profit means all of the people involved in the work still get paid. The doctors get paid. The nurses. The hospitals. The people who administer payment from the single payer system even get paid.

    What DOESN'T exist is MORE MONEY/COSTS being taken out for people who do not actually do the work. These are the stockholders to insurance companies.

    I'm glad you gave me the opportunity to explain this to you so now you understand.

    I do stem cell research for a living. I am paid a WAGE not a PROFIT, for my work; and if I were to produce something patentable, I would be able to be well paid based on negotiations between me, the patent owner, and the firms that purchase the product. Compensation and Wage are NOT profit.

  • by gr8fulnded ( 254977 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @09:07PM (#37359088)

    You, sir or madam, are ignorant. Most insurance plans don't cover hearing aids. And try to get one of these digital hearing aids through the gummint. Ain't gonna happen.

    True on the insurance part, not so much on the gov't part. I get a digital hearing aid for 100% free (thank you, taxpayers) every two years from the VA. They rolled to full digital HA's a long time ago.

  • by TheTyrannyOfForcedRe ( 1186313 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:29PM (#37359560)

    In big cities it's not uncommon to wait 4-6 hours for an emergency consult, unless you roll in on an ambulance with a severed limb...

    We have that in the US too. My medium sized city has a few of the best hospitals in country. Unless you're bleeding severely, giving birth, or having a heart attack you can count on a multi-hour wait at the emergency room. The only different thing from Canada is that patients get to walk out with fat bill. Something minor runs hundreds. Something major costs thousands.

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:39PM (#37359618)

    Medical regulations aren't causing the expense of your hearing aids. I don't know where the blame lies, but that almost certainly isn't it. The reason capitalism isn't necessarily fine with medicine is the number of suppliers is often so limited, there is no real competition.

    Government regulations are the primary reason why the number of suppliers is so limited. The regulations governing the manufacture and sale of medical devices are subject to interpretation and the FDA will not necessarily give you the definitive word on what the correct interpretation is.

  • Re:Hmmm. (Score:5, Informative)

    by fluffy99 ( 870997 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:45PM (#37359650)

    Yes, it's funny to hear people tell you to watch loud power tools and music until... your hearing is 1/2 gone!

    Just curious, the doc says hearing aids only amplify the volume of sounds. I'm only deficient in hearing in a certain small range but it makes talking to certain people (usually women and kids) a chore. Isn't there _something_ that can shift the pitch of a certain frequency into another frequency so I can hear it without amplification?

    The more expensive hearing aids have an equalizer which can be tuned. That way, you only amplify the frequency ranges you need. Frequency shifting would be much more complex and really not necessary.

  • Re:Hmmm. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) * on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:47PM (#37359660)

    Isn't there _something_ that can shift the pitch of a certain frequency into another frequency so I can hear it without amplification?

    Carry around a balloon full of sulfur hexafluoride.

  • by wangmaster ( 760932 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:54PM (#37359692)

    I used to work for a hearing aid company in IT.
    The most expensive programmable digital hearing aid with all the options topped out at around $1200. That's the cost to the hearing care professional. So yeah, that hearing aid would turn around and sell for at least 3 to 4 times that.

    Also, the company had an extended warranty that we sold to the hearing care professional. Most of them don't turn around and sell that to the customer. Instead, they pay for it themselves and then when a customer brings a hearing aid back they sent it to us for free to fix and they charged the customer for it. It seemed like quite a nice racket. Especially when you consider they also charge for the hearing checkup, fitting, and all of that other usual crap above and beyond what the hearing aid itself cost.

    I'm not sure what the rest of the medical device industry looks like, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was fairly similar. I know the markup on my glasses frames is pretty crazy.

  • by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @12:01AM (#37360014) Homepage
    This guy compares hearing aids not targetted at the same audience. The smaller is not better than the behind the ear one. The smaller device is for hearing impaired with low to medium hearing loss, while the behind the ear devices are designed for low to severe hearing loss. Both are available worldwide. The reason his mother's husband is not wearing a small in-ear device is probably his condition is too severe and this smaller device is not appropriate. Also, the behind the ear devices are having some buttons to switch functions, while this doesn't exist on in-ear devices. Often, eldery peoples prefer the behind the ear devices because they are easier to manipulate than the in-ear devices which cannot be turned off without removing them from the ear. And removing them requires some agility since you have a small nylon wire to pull to remove the device.

    Bottom line, your conclusion is not well founded given the original post.

  • Re:Hmmm. (Score:5, Informative)

    by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @12:55AM (#37360226) Homepage Journal

    The summary wasn't quite accurate. $3000 to $8000 a pair is supposed to be the traditional price.

    This story is actually a product marketing newsletter for the company that sells Audicus hearing aids [] which start from $400 a pair. [] starts at $200 per pair.

    The cheapest was [] Axon Hearing Aid (V163) for about $27 a pair, but they don't seem to adjust to the frequency of the patient's loss.

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