Why Do Hearing Aids Cost So Much?
Have you asked that question, too? Here's a breakdown of what they cost and why
En español l Just as you can buy $3 reading glasses at the supermarket, you can get a pair of hearing aids for a few hundred dollars online or at a big-box store. But if you're looking to purchase a custom-fitted, quality pair from an audiologist, you can expect to pay anywhere from about $2,200 to more than $7,000 a pair for devices with the latest tech, such as the ability to wirelessly stream sound from your television and link up to your smartphone.
According to a survey recently published by the Hearing Review, the average price of a mid-level pair of aids hovers between $4,400 and $4,500. Prices vary by region. At UCLA's Audiology Clinic, for example, the average price is $4,200, says audiologist Alison Grimes. Audiologist Janice Trent says the average price is $4,000 at her suburban Maryland clinic.
The same survey found that the average prices of both high-end and mid-level aids have dropped since 2005. The price of most budget-oriented aids has remained steady.
No matter how you look at it, hearing aids are expensive. So why exactly do they cost what they do? Experts say you are not only buying a high-tech device that requires extensive research, but also likely paying for services from highly trained hearing specialists during the life span of your hearing aids.
On the manufacturing end, materials such as microprocessors and microphones may be about 10 percent of the final cost for some hearing aids. Research may account for as much as triple the cost of materials.
"It is a substantial part of the price: All the major companies have phenomenal research," said Patricia Kricos, an audiology professor at the University of Florida and president of the American Academy of Audiology. Between electrical engineers, audiologists, computer programmers and musicologists, an immense amount of technical knowledge is required to produce these miniature devices. Once made, the hearing aids must then be marketed and sold, an expense that also includes the cost of staff responsible for training the audiologists and other hearing specialists in their use.
At hearing clinics and other outlets, aids sell for approximately 2-1/2 times the wholesale price. Many factors contribute to the markup. When customers visit an audiologist in an office — where rent and overhead can be 10 to 15 percent — they spend time learning about their condition, going over various products available and then getting fitted — often requiring a hearing-test booth and a sound box for calibration. These high-tech machines need to be replaced every few years and can account for about 8 percent of the total cost.
But even before the customers walk in the door, the audiologist needs to purchase licenses and insurance, about 3 percent for some practices. Customers frequently return for adjustments, cleaning and seminars, all of which take time and are usually included in the price of the hearing aids. Salaries can account for 10 to 20 percent of the cost, depending on the size and scope of the practice.
Like any business, there are marketing activities to attract and retain customers, accounting for 5 to 10 percent, as well as continuing-education requirements and staff training, which make up 5 percent of the total. It all adds up quickly for the audiologist, who in a good year may take home from 10 to 15 percent of a practice's revenue — and that's before taxes and interest payments.
"You can buy a hearing aid anywhere, but it will only be as good as the person fitting it," says St. Joseph, Mich., audiologist Gyl A. Kasewurm.
Using the average price of $4,400 for a pair of hearing aids, we break down the costs below. Please note that these figures are estimates drawn from a variety of sources, including discussions and correspondence with audiologists, manufacturers and industry experts.
Overall cost — $4,400
Costs for the manufacturer:
- Materials — $440
- Research — $1,320
Other retailer costs:
- Rent/overhead — $473
- Testing/diagnostic machines — $352
- Licenses/insurance — $132
- Salaries — $660
- Marketing — $330
- Continuing education/training — $220
- Potential profit for the retailer (pretax) — $473
Approximate product cost for retailer — $1,760
Additional reporting by Matt McMillen, a freelance health writer living in Portland, Ore.
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