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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 PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:12PM (#37358636) Homepage

    I'm sure the average American household is well above that.

    They may be counting single-occupancy dwellings as "households," but the important part is, probably a great many of the people who require hearing aids are either already on fixed income or are close to retirement.

    And if there is a price bubble, the Chinese will be right there to correct it.

    TFA claims the ones we're paying $2,000 for are already being manufactured in China for $100. The problem is that a hearing aid is technically a durable medical device. Many people prefer to consult with a professional to get the right model, correct fit, etc., and some states actually forbid hearing aids being sold by mail or by anyone other than a licensed professional. So that kinda puts a damper on the grey market for many people.

  • a little fishy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by antant007 ( 1702214 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:13PM (#37358650)
    An article on how expensive hearing aids are from a hearing aid company that advertises their low costs.
  • by joocemann ( 1273720 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:20PM (#37358708)

    Capitalism at its finest.... people have needs... you have answers.... gouge em till they stop asking! Or gouge their insurance and drive rates up for everyone.


  • by BlackTriangle ( 581416 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:29PM (#37358794)

    It's coming through a hole in the air,
    from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
    It's coming from the feel
    that this ain't exactly real,
    or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
    From the wars against disorder,
    from the sirens night and day,
    from the fires of the homeless,
    from the ashes of the gay:
    Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
    It's coming through a crack in the wall;
    on a visionary flood of alcohol;
    from the staggering account
    of the Sermon on the Mount
    which I don't pretend to understand at all.
    It's coming from the silence
    on the dock of the bay,
    from the brave, the bold, the battered
    heart of Chevrolet:
    Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

    It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
    the holy places where the races meet;
    from the homicidal bitchin'
    that goes down in every kitchen
    to determine who will serve and who will eat.
    From the wells of disappointment
    where the women kneel to pray
    for the grace of God in the desert here
    and the desert far away:
    Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

    Sail on, sail on
    O mighty Ship of State!
    To the Shores of Need
    Past the Reefs of Greed
    Through the Squalls of Hate
    Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

    It's coming to America first,
    the cradle of the best and of the worst.
    It's here they got the range
    and the machinery for change
    and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
    It's here the family's broken
    and it's here the lonely say
    that the heart has got to open
    in a fundamental way:
    Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

    It's coming from the women and the men.
    O baby, we'll be making love again.
    We'll be going down so deep
    the river's going to weep,
    and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
    It's coming like the tidal flood
    beneath the lunar sway,
    imperial, mysterious,
    in amorous array:
    Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

    Sail on, sail on ...

    I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
    I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
    And I'm neither left or right
    I'm just staying home tonight,
    getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
    But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
    that Time cannot decay,
    I'm junk but I'm still holding up
    this little wild bouquet:
    Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:31PM (#37358808) Homepage Journal

    And yet every similar device that isn't a hearing aid has come way down in price in that same time frame. The difference is that the FDA won't butt out of hearing aids.

  • by xquercus ( 801916 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:50PM (#37358964)

    This is one of the biggest reasons why social security is in trouble.

    This is so wrong! You have bought into the shell game and misdirection that so many politicians have been leading. The Social Security trust fund holds over $2.5 trillion. Most of this has been lent to other under funded government projects. That's the problem. We don't want to pay back the the money we borrowed from the Social Security system and instead say the system is broken. It isn't. The systems is fully self funded. We've just been treating the huge Social Security surpluses as a giant piggy bank for so long that we find it easier to say Social Security is broken than pay back the money we stole!

  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @09:36PM (#37359296) Homepage

    "... 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."

    I would say that the "something funny" is just raw American ignorance. There's lots of higher-tech products and infrastructure in other countries. But we're brainwashed to believe that it's not, by definition, possible for America to be behind the curve. In many ways.

  • by Intropy ( 2009018 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @09:38PM (#37359312)
    Okay, that out of the way, let's look at "Health Care is a right." Based on your argument I think you really did mean right in the sense outline above. I disagree with that stance. Health care is a liberty and not a right. The government can't get in the way of a person seeking it but is not obliged to provide it. Health care is a thing used by an individual. It is not right for the government to take resources from everyone in the form of taxes, and then use them to provide resources to individuals, even if it's to each individual. If groups of people want to band together voluntarily for that purpose, that's great. In fact, at the fundamental level that's what insurance is.

    Since you bring up health care costs, let me posit one reason why such inefficiencies abound. And let me acknowledge right now that I don't have any data on this as it is a hypothesis. It seems strange that health care is so intimately tied to employment in the US. It's actually a weird relic from WWII when there were strong wage controls in the US. How do you compete for employees when you can't just pay them more? Give them the health care that congress forgot to include in the controls! These days the reason health care is tied to employment is that it's deductible for the company and never counts as income to be taxed for the recipient. That means that the recipient is essentially paying less for the insurance because he gets out of paying those taxes. That amounts to a massive government subsidy on health insurance. Worse, it pretty much guarantees a large demand since everybody's going to buy the insurance if the government's footing part of the bill. Inflated demand combined with subsidies is not a recipe for efficiency.

    P.S. I split the posts because I suspect this is an unpopular opinion to hold here and anticipate being modded down, but I figured the definition part might see the light of day and be of some use.
  • by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @09:44PM (#37359338) Homepage
    You cannot compare hearing aids only on the basis of the size and cutenest factor. The main point is your mom's husband may have a greater hearing loss than the European woman. The small device entering deep in the ear canal are suitable for those not having a too severe hearing loss condition. I know, I did own one and since my hearing loss is progressive it eventually needs to be replaced by a behind the ear device with much more amplification power. So, avoid this kind of comparisons. You must compare devices of a kind with devices of the same kind. They are targetted at different audiences.

    Here, we have coverage for hearing aids from the government. However, there is restrictions on the make, models and types of hearing aids we can pick from. There is a list reviewed every two years or so. Usually, the government make a deal with few manufacturers after asking them to answer to a public RFP (Request for proposals). They set guidelines and the manufacturers must bid as well on a 6 years maintenance plan for their own devices. Those with the lowest prices meeting the requirements for each category win. The drawbacks of this approach is the devices are always end-of-line models. If you want to pick one not on the list, you have to pay it in full. This permit most individuals with hearing loss to have access to hearing aids devices at the price of having access to low-end models only.

  • Re:Hmmm. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:08PM (#37359462) Homepage Journal

    Even babies are getting older these days.

  • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:41PM (#37359630)

    Hearing aids are regulated by the FDA which is why it costs $5k or so in paperwork.

    Here is capitalism. It looks like a hearing aid but it is really a sound amplifier so it is not regulated by the FDA. It costs $70. []

  • by ChrisMaple ( 607946 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @11:02PM (#37359736)

    Fundamental to the concept of rights is reciprocity. In other words, if you call "A" a right but "A" involves violating someone else's rights, then "A" cannot be a right. Health Care can not exist without someone providing it through their labor. If that someone isn't paid for his labor, then in most cases he's doing it involuntarily: he's a slave to you. You have no right to enslave someone. If that someone is paid by another party without that party's permission (i.e. through taxes) then that party is being enslaved to the extent that the fruit of his labors is taken against his wishes. Again, you do not have the right to enslave someone.

    In America, medical care is expensive in part because of fascist-syndicalist laws restricting supply. The solution is neither socialism nor the status quo, it is freedom.

  • by ArsonSmith ( 13997 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @11:34PM (#37359880) Journal

    isn't wanting something cheaper just as greedy as wanting something more expensive?

    If I demand a $5 hearing aid how is that less greedy than charging $5k? Value is set by the individuals on both sides of a transaction.

  • by jonbryce ( 703250 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @04:44AM (#37360894) Homepage

    A regulation-free medical industry is one where you get loads of useless homoeopathic and similar remedies, and there is no guarantee that they will work as described or be safe.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter