Why are hearing aids so expensive?

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.

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9 Comments

  1. I hope this is not one more of thes sales cons for hearing aids . I purchased a pair of Oticon Agil Pro
    Hearing aids in Perth from Western Diagnostic for $11500-00 .5 yrs ago . At times with no background noise and if people speak clearly I hear better without them .

    A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Western Diagnostic who informed me that my current hearing aids should be replaced as they were now out of date . For No 3 . I googled Oticon and contacted a couple of them . They were selling them from $1400 each to $3000 ea . Con you buy one hearing aid . More cons . Western Diagnostic Claremont wanted $9000 a pair .

    I even had a very bad experience with the Lions Hearing Insritute at Charlie Garner Hospitol Perth .The lady took them apart and said I need a stronger version . She could not put them together again . I had to go back to Western Diagnostic who wanted to know who had stuffed them up . I said it was an African in Johannesburg. This little lark cost $500 to correct .

    I pried the same hearing aids in London in November and I was quoted £1250-00 a pair ,which were guaranteed for 3 yrs . What is going on in Australia. Even in Johannesburg you get a better deal . You would get arrested there if you tried this stunt

    Michael Curnow
    1. Hi Michael,
      I’m sorry to hear about your terrible experience. Sadly, this sort of thing can happen anywhere. Raising awareness of the issue is the first step in eradicating it, which is why it’s so great that the ACCC has compiled a report on the industry.
      All the best
      — Elaine

      admin
    2. Dear Michael
      Just noting the new comment that’s come in, you can go online and test your hearing at http://www.blameysaunders.com.au
      This is a clinically validated speech perception test and you can do it with and without hearing aids. It’s free, and it’s entirely up to you whether you want to leave your details to have a free consultation with one of our telaudiologists. Have ago. All you need is a computer, internet connection and speakers. Do the test with and without hearing aids and don’t change the volume in between.
      Elaine

  2. Would not find programming your aids easy as I would use my smallish Android mobile ; the text would be hard to follow I thinkl. So, going your DIY way while living a long way from your clinics AND not hving Microsoft or Apple would suggest not using you? Or is there a solution? thanks

    Martina
    1. Hi Martina, thanks for your question! That option is optional. Your Blamey Saunders hearing aids arrive ready to go, set up with either an audiogram that you provide or using your results from our online Speech Perception Test. Most people are quite happy with the way they sound, right out of the box. If you decide you’d like to optimise your settings to match your personal listening preferences and your personal home environments perfectly, the process is quite straightforward on the phone, and there is minimal text to read. But, we do have an alternative solution! You can give our Client Services team a call or email, and if you can get to a computer with a Windows operating system (maybe friends or family have one, if you don’t) and download the app onto it, we can either talk you through the process over the phone or use safe screen-share technology to take over the app on your computer -you can sit back and watch us make the changes for you, with your direct input. Does that answer your question? If you’d like to know more, please feel free to give the team a call on 1300 443 279. All the best!

      admin
  3. Hi Elaine,

    Thanks for the article. Will Blamey Saunders ever bring out something similar to this newish Opus 96 hearing aid that has a fitting range that can accomodate severe hearing loss?

    Jim
  4. Hi Elaine, I caught a virus from a friend in 2005 and within the month began going deaf in both ears, but more in the left. I consulted an E&T specialist at the time who confirmed hearing loss (loss of conductivity of the hairs). I was working as a trauma agent 24/7 in my own business and subsequently developed tinnitus and had 2 Menieres attacks. This resulted in further hearing loss. I shifted into public working life since I viewed the regular lack of sleep I maintained was contributing to my health problems in the same way that shift workers or persons with insomnia develop complications.

    I have always led from the front and been an active thinker and innovator with a background in neuroscience. However my hearing in recent years has placed me at a disadvantage. I currently have a Widex ME-9 hearing aid in my right ear. I find it hard to discriminate softly spoken female staff around a large board table even with active listening. (I am alright with persons one-on-one regardless of their speech pattern/vocal range.) My left ear augments my right hearing but poorly falling below 40 percentile mid-range. The Widex hearing aid was fitted in Nov’13 and I have attended for adjustments but find it now inadequate..

    I provide this background since I need improved hearing to participate more in the workplace. My question for you is can I expect improved hearing with your 96 channel earpiece? My problem with hearing is understanding two or more people speaking at the same time, quietly spoken people (variance in speech volume) and with the speech features of Vowel Length, Affrication, Sibilance and Place.

    A further question is would there be any benefit obtaining a 2nd earpiece for my left poorer ear?

    I have sat your SPT Test twice over without my hearing aid – the first with a speaker nearby; the second time with earbuds in both ears.

    I look forward to your advice.
    With thanks, Tim

    Tim
    1. Dear Tim
      Yes, you can expect improved hearing with our hearing aids. I use them myself in those situations, With good modern hearing aids which have automatic directionality, such as the 96 channel Opus, it’s also very important that you face the person of interest, which means some head turning if there are two people. This is so that the microphones are optimally positioned. Be sure to put the hearing aids quite high on your ears as that means the front facing microphone fis better placed, Depending on the features in the Widex hearing aid, you might be able to do that with your current ones. Does it have automatic directionality?
      In relation to one aid or two: using two aids will almost certainly be better in the situation you describe. Canh I ask you to do the SPT otwice more, once for each ear? This is the link
      https://apps.blameysaunders.com.au/clinic/wordtest/
      Go to the tick box the top right and do the test with your ear buds on Monaural right and Monaural left, then I can answer your question about two aids more precisely
      Elaine

      admin

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