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Hearing aids: our insider’s take

Marketplace wanted to get specific details on the cost and pricing of hearing aids. But getting those specific details wasn't easy. Industry associations and providers would only outline general factors that can contribute to the final price. We put those explanations to our Price Tag Insider Russ Apfel.

Technology

The industry's take: In the past 20 years, hearing aids have gone from analog to digital, and manufacturers spend millions on research and development each year to improve the technology inside. Much of the research goes into algorithms that increase the quality of sound, noise cancellation, or other features. New models are constantly being designed which requires training, development, advertising and other costs to bring it to market.

Our insider's take: Apfel says while the biggest hearing aid manufacturers do spend money on research and development, it's only about 2% of the total retail price. "They actually spend more money advertising and promoting the hearing aids to audiologists and involved in the channel than they do for R&D and manufacturing combined," he adds.


Professional Services

The industry's take: Hearing aids are often sold with bundled service plans which may include fees for counseling, selection, fitting and any necessary adjustments or repairs. In many cases, the service packages span between 2-5 years. These services help ensure the hearing aid is properly fitted, and meets your hearing needs. The industry says it's up to users to take full advantage of the time and services they buy to ensure they're getting the most out of their hearing aids.

Our insider's take: Apfel explains that new hearing aid users require more attention and care than experienced users, but experienced users don't receive a discount even though they will likely require less attention and resources. So some people are paying for all the services associated with a hearing aid whether they need it or not. He adds the average cost of services is probably somewhere between $300-800.


Low Volume Sales

The industry's take: Compared to other popular consumer electronics, hearing aids are not sold in high volumes. Hearing loss affects 10% of all Canadians, and studies say that only a fraction of those actually wear hearing aids. The industry says lower volume means manufacturers and providers have to charge more for each unit sold to recoup costs. It says new hearing aid models are constantly coming to market, the R&D and dispensing costs must be spread over a relatively small number of units sold.

Our insider's take: Apfel agrees hearing aids don't sell in high volumes like computers or televisions, but manufacturers are still selling millions of units every year. He says nearly 3 million are sold every year in the United States alone.