It’s the question that led Professor Blamey and me on the path to Blamey Saunders hears, and it’s a question that I don’t have a straightforward answer to.
Sure, hearing aids have long been costly to research and design, but there’s long been high profitability at the retail end of the chain. This has encouraged strong vertical integration in the hearing aid industry, and a high return for the investors in retail distribution. You can read more about that in this blog by social issues journalist Adele Horin, and in today’s ABC piece on the recent ACCC investigation.
To be fair, the volume of hearing aids sold is small compared with global need. Specialised component prices and manufacturing costs are very high compared with the high volume consumer sector.
BUT, when you spend $10,000 on a pair of hearing aids through conventional sales channels, less than a third of that goes to the cost of the hearing aid itself. The other two thirds goes to a mark-up or commission, to pay for the services required to measure your hearing, adjust the hearing aid, to pay for the high proportion of returned hearing aids, and to pay the high overheads of retail outlets. Salaries are generally high.
The sad practice of bundled pricing is likely the result of the difficulty to convey to some clients that they need professional help and that help providers need to earn a salary.
It’s not surprising many people are wondering why they shouldn’t just buy the $200 personal sound amplifying device they saw in the chemist.
Personal sound amplifiers are not the answer to pricing problems.
While these off-the-shelf amplifiers may help people with normal hearing who need a little boost in volume in certain situations, I believe they have low potential for good hearing outcomes for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Personal Sound Amplifiers amplify all the sounds around you and generally can’t be adjusted for your personal needs. Good hearing aids do more than just make sound louder. They are selective about the sound that is delivered to your ear, and can be fitted to make sure that what you hear is always audible and comfortable.
Hearing aids should be set up so that the sound you hearing is right for your needs. You need the right sounds to stimulate the parts of your hearing that has grown lax through ageing and everyday wear and tear.
You should be going for the best possible sound quality, especially if you are using a hearing aid to help you with tinnitus.
Professor Blamey and I have come up with a solution that works.
My profit-for purpose-company is able to charge low prices for highly researched, clinically validated technology because our business model is based on our commitment to remove the common barriers to getting hearing aids, namely cost.
Hearing aids are medical, not luxury, devices. Why should it be appropriate to sell anything less than good hearing aids that can be supported and personalised?
Blamey Saunders has achieved low pricing, partly by cutting out the “middle man”, and working directly with the hearing aid customer. In doing this, we have also empowered our hearing aid users, by letting our clients customise their hearing aids themselves, and by helping them, if they wish, using internet technology. This way we can stay in touch with our customers, and give them professional help with their hearing health.
Government subsidies are needed, and health insurers should rebate more realistically.
Where to from here?
The poor uptake and lack of awareness of the importance of hearing and listening to health is evidence that the hearing aid distribution system in Australia is broken.
Sadly, prices of quality hearing aids likely won’t drop much below our current prices unless there is a major drop in specialised component prices, which can only happen when there is a major increase in volume. We need public education that hearing aids are important, and that rehabilitation is sometimes very important.
Now, you probably expect me to talk up our new hearing aid, the Opus-96, with its improved microphone technology and advanced sound processor, and go on and on about how we’ve transformed thousands of lives by bringing vibrant sound back into their everyday with hearing aids whose price is in no way indicative of their quality (they’re affordable but very, very good). But more fool you, because I just did it without you even noticing!
But really, it doesn’t matter which brand you use, as long as you are not pushed into buying something you can’t afford under the guise that it’s the only device that will work for you. If you need hearing aids, please get them, BUT make sure that whatever you do use works for you and your wallet.