Hearing aids are typically sold bundled together with professional services, which means everything is included in the sticker price. The price you’re quoted includes the retail price of the hearing aids and the professional audiology services required to fit and program the devices, as well as repair and maintain them for a specified period of time—often two to four years. In some cases, initial diagnostic testing is offered free or included in the bundled price.
“Patients require follow-up visits when they get hearing aids,” says Galatioto. With the bundled service model, you can visit the audiologist as often as you need to fine-tune your hearing aids and the fit, as well as maintain and repair them as needed, at no additional cost. Some providers, however, limit the number of appointments in a given time period.
Hearing aids can also be sold “unbundled”—or without professional services included. “Unbundling” is an emerging trend, especially with proposed regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding over-the-counter hearing aids and the possible expansion of Medicare to include coverage for hearing aids and related services. With the unbundled model, you buy the hearing aids separately from any related services.
The unbundled price may also include one or two follow-up office visits, after which you pay out of pocket for each audiology office visit. “With the unbundled service model, there’s less cost upfront, but depending on the number of visits you need, you may pay as much as the bundled service model,” says Galatioto.
“The reality of the cost of hearing aids is that the price to the consumer is confounded by many variables: depth and breadth of the provider services provided to the consumer, the wholesale price to the provider, manufacturer clinic ownership, payer source and provider pricing, and delivery models,” says Kim Cavitt, a Chicago-based audiologist and the owner of owner of Audiology Resources, Inc. “For example, when the consumer purchases hearing aids from an unbundled independent hearing aid or audiology practice, through a third-party network or at some Big Box retailers, the provider services account for 30% to 40% of the total cost. In bundled hearing aid delivery scenarios, the cost of provider services can account for a greater percentage of the total cost,” she says.
Everything starts with an audiogram, which is a hearing test performed by a licensed audiologist. A diagnostic audiogram is typically covered by private health insurance (but check your specific policy for more details). It can help determine if your hearing loss is age-related or caused by a medical condition that requires further follow-up care and treatment.
At the high end—around $3,000 per hearing aid for bundled services—hearing aids can offer Bluetooth connectivity to your smartphone. Through your hearing aids, you can connect to your phone, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and other conference calls, as well as Netflix, music and other media. Premium hearing aids may also offer machine learning or artificial intelligence, which manufacturers claim helps provide the clearest, crispest sound in any given situation.
These hearing aids may also be small and inconspicuous compared to lower-end models. Starkey’s Invisible (IIC) model, for example, rests deep in the second bend of your ear canal, rendering the hearing aid practically invisible. “These tinier devices have to be custom made for patients to the specifications of the ear canal,” says Galatioto. Premium hearing aids also feature rechargeable batteries, which can offer up to 30 hours of continuous use before requiring recharging (typically done at night).
At the other end of the spectrum, hearing aids at introductory price points cost around $1,000 to $1,700 per hearing aid. These hearing aids typically offer simpler technology with fewer algorithms and channels to control and amplify sound and respond to noisy situations. They are not only more affordable, but also easier to learn how to use and may suffice for your listening needs.
Meanwhile, big-box retailers like Costco offer particularly low prices on hearing aids. Premium hearing aids can cost as little as $700 per ear at these stores.
Included in the bundled service model is the fitting, which involves physically fitting a hearing device or component of the device to the patient’s ear. Depending on the hearing device you choose, a physical mold of your ear may be necessary.
A fitting also includes importing the results of your audiogram into the device’s software and programming the hearing aid for your unique hearing ability and the specific acoustics of your ears. “Every patient’s ear is different, and every patient’s sound tolerance is different,” says Galatioto. Programming hearing aids is a process of verification and validation—measuring the sound amplified by the hearing aid before it reaches the ear canal and quantifying the number of decibels patients hear.
“And sometimes patients have to build up a tolerance for wearing a hearing aid,” says Galatioto. “The way we fit them on day one may not be the way we fit them one month out.”
Be prepared to test your hearing aids in the real world and visit your audiologist several times until you can hear well in situations like eating with friends in noisy restaurants. “Sometimes it takes two or three troubleshooting follow-up appointments to get the sound right,” says Brian R. Earl, Ph.D., director of EARLAB at the University of Cincinnati College of Allied Health Sciences.
Hearing aids can fill up with moisture and wax, and audiologists can perform professional cleanings with supersonic cleaners and vacuums. Professional maintenance checkups every six months are often included in the bundled price to keep your hearing aids running smoothly, too.
A one- to three-year warranty specified by the manufacturer to cover the cost of repairs is typically included in the bundled price, and full replacements usually cost a certain amount per device and can only occur at that rate once. “Hearing aids are machines, and they will break if they’re used throughout all waking hours, which is recommended,” says Galatioto.
When the warranty coverage ends, you can pay to extend it, but that can be expensive. If something breaks after the standard warranty expires, you can also simply pay to have it repaired, as the repair will include a new warranty.