Hearing aid prices much higher than their actual cost
Manitoba audiologist says final price includes many services
Even though consumers can pay thousands dollars for a single hearing aid, a CBC News investigation has found that the actual cost of making a hearing aid averages around $150.
That figure comes from the operator of Audicus Inc., an online company that distributes hearing aids direct from the manufacturer at a reduced cost to customers around the world.
Audicus president Patrick Freuler says he has broken out the cost of a typical hearing aid, based on his own research with manufacturers.
"The typical cost to produce a hearing aid [is] anywhere between $50 to up to $200," Freuler said in an interview from his office in New York.
He said the price depends on how many features are within the hearing aid, whether or not it has Bluetooth capability, or multiple channels and microphones.
"It can go all the way down to the tens of dollars. But if you want to take an average cost, it is $150," said Freuler.
The manufacturer sells the hearing aid for $400 to $600 to a retailer or audiologist, who then sells the device for about $2,000.
Prices at Audicus.com range from about $400 to $600 per hearing aid.
For that price, you can consult with Audicus's audiologists by phone or online. The price also includes a five-year warranty, and if customers aren't satisfied they can return the device without cost.
"Most of this price escalation happens at the audiology clinic," Freuler said.
Services related to hearing aid delivery are performed by audiologists and hearing instrument practitioners.
Cost is about service, says audiologist
Andrea Richardson-Lipon, an audiologist based in Selkirk, Man., said she doesn't dispute that analysis, but she noted that the final price of hearing aids includes a bundle of services.
"Depending on how long the warranty is, there's all the adjustments, all the cleaning…. That's all covered into the price," she said.
"The hearing test, the fitting fees, everything is just all bundled. Hearing aids are more about service."
But for many hard-of-hearing people, that cost can be a huge financial burden.
Rosalyn Sutley of Winnipeg said last pair of hearing aids cost her $3,800.
Before she got her life-enhancing devices, Sutley said she missed out on a lot of sounds that others take for granted.
"I heard this noise and I identified it … it's the rain on the roof of my car!" she recalled.
"I was so fascinated and over-awed I was hearing the sound, and I drove right through a red light…. I was so busy listening to this sound that I had never heard before."
Sutley said while service for her hearing aids is a big priority, she has had to make some tough decisions in order to afford them.
"We had decided at the beginning of 2007 to save for a car. And in June, when I found out I needed these, there went the car," she said.
Audiologists' group says it has no input
In Manitoba, audiologists must be licensed by the Manitoba Speech and Hearing Association (MSHA).
The group declined to be interviewed, but in a statement it said, "The MSHA has no input as to how these prices are determined, nor do we have any input as to how the clinic breaks down their fee schedule."
Hearing aid dispensers are licensed by The Hearing Aid Board in Manitoba.
Their voluntary association is called the Canadian Hearing Instrument Practitioners Society. That association's Manitoba representative was not available to respond.
Robert Corbeil, the national executive director of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Awareness Association, says the lack of a price structure may be part of the problem.
"Because what we see out there is that there is no real price structure," he said.
Corbeil added that some of the pricing strategies are "borderline — almost like a trap."
"They attract you and then they will offer you a very low price, and then they have to add this and add this, and that finally it costs a lot," he said.
Richardson-Lipon agrees that many consumers don't understand the price structure and suggested the industry may not be transparent about where those fees come in.
"If I get a bill, I like to see the breakdown, and so I'm not surprised [at] that and it's a good question," she said.
It's a question that Manitoba Health Minister Theresa Oswald has asked her officials to examine.
"We want to ensure that individuals who are out there that are needing hearing aids are not being subjected to any kind of cloak-and-dagger pricing that's causing them to pay more than they need to pay for the device," she told CBC News.
Oswald said she does not have a timeline for the review, but the work has already started.