Only about 16% of people who would benefit from hearing aids have ever used them according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. For many people, hearing aids are simply unaffordable. That may be changing, though, as new brands and new ways of buying hearing aids gain popularity. If you're affected by hearing loss, here's what you need to know to help you lower your hearing aid costs.
According to a survey by Consumer Reports, the average price for a single hearing aid was about $2,560 or $5,120 a pair. Buying hearing aids as a pair dropped the price per device to $2,340 or $4,680 for a pair. Most people—about 85%—buy hearing aids as a pair.
Even though the average hearing aid price is over $2,500, it’s possible to get hearing aids for as little as $400 to $500 a pair. You may not get the highest level of technology at the lower price points, but depending on your lifestyle and type of hearing loss, you may not need all of the high-tech features.
Hearing aids are far more technologically advanced than even a decade ago. Some of today’s devices essentially function as smartphone headsets. You can take calls, stream music and podcasts, and even track health metrics with your hearing aids.
Those high-tech features are nice, but they drive up the cost of hearing aids. You can save money by choosing only the features you really need.
Most hearing aids have a combination of the following popular features:
Hearing aid features and level of technology have the greatest impact on price. The most technologically advanced hearing aids average about $2,700 each. Bypassing some of these high-tech features or opting for a previous generation of the more advanced models can drop hearing aid costs to around $1,000 or less.
Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) doesn’t cover hearing aids, but many Medicare Advantage plans include benefits for hearing exams and hearing aids. There are also stand-alone hearing plans that help offset hearing aid costs.
RELATED: Does Medicare cover hearing aids?
Insurance plans typically don't cover the full cost of the devices. Most provide a discount or an allowance of $500 to $1,500 toward the purchase of hearing aids. Some insurance companies tie the allowance or discount to approved providers. For example, you may get a 25% discount off the price of hearing aids if you buy them from an audiologist in the plan's approved provider network.
If you buy hearing aids from an audiologist, you pay for more than just the devices themselves. In addition to the cost of the hearing aids, you could be billed for the initial audiologist office visit, fittings and adjustments, follow-up appointments, and extended warranties.
In the past, the only way to buy hearing aids was through an audiologist or hearing center. Your choice of hearing aids was limited to partner brands such as Starkey, Phonak, Oticon, and ReSound. These are among the most expensive brands on the market.
Including the store markup, audiologist services, fittings, and other costs, a pair of traditional hearing aids can cost $6,000 to $8,000 or more.
Buying direct is substantially less expensive and gives you access to brands and models not available at hearing clinics.
The law opened the door for big-box stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club to enter the OTC hearing aid market. Instead of visiting a hearing aid center and paying for an exam and fitting, people could go to one of these stores, get a free hearing test, and choose from a larger selection of hearing aids.
Most big-box stores sell several different hearing aid brands. Costco, one of the largest OTC hearing aid providers, sells ReSound and Phonak models as well as its own proprietary Kirkland Signature brand.
Big-box stores have deeply discounted hearing aid prices because the store can negotiate lower costs with manufacturers due to the high volume of devices they purchase.
Costs are further reduced because fittings are done by hearing instrument specialists instead of audiologists. Research shows that hearing aids fitted by an audiologist cost about $500 more than those fitted by a hearing instrument specialist.
The buy-direct model cuts hearing aid costs by 50% or more in many cases.
Buying hearing aids online is a relatively new development, but the concept behind it isn’t. Many major brands bypass the middleman and sell directly to consumers online. Some, such as Dollar Shave Club, use this method almost exclusively.
Hearing aid manufacturers sell online to make it easier and less expensive for people to buy high-quality hearing aids. By selling directly to consumers, the manufacturers save money on expensive storefronts and pass those savings on to their customers.
Online hearing aid brands can do everything big-box stores can do. You can take a free online hearing test similar to the one you take at a hearing center. A hearing professional makes recommendations for the best hearing aid for your lifestyle and level of hearing loss. Fittings and adjustments are done over FaceTime or Skype or through a smartphone app. This could be especially valuable for people interested in reducing in-person appointments to limit their risk of COVID-19.
The entire process is supervised by an audiologist and your hearing aids are dispensed by a licensed health professional. Most companies provide personal support for as long as you own your devices.
Hearing aid costs are much lower when you buy online from the manufacturer. MDHearingAid, for example, offers a value-priced model for $400 a pair. Audicus sells a Bluetooth-enabled device with several popular features for $500 a pair.
While it’s common to purchase prescription eyewear and other health devices online, buying hearing aids online is relatively new. It’s normal to have questions about quality, safety, and the buying experience.
Is it safe to buy hearing aids online?
Hearing aids sold online meet the same FDA regulations as brands sold by audiologists and hearing centers. You work with a hearing specialist during the testing and purchase process and devices are dispensed by licensed medical professionals. You get a similar or greater level of guidance and support as you would if you bought in person at a hearing center.
Are online hearing aids professionally fitted and adjusted?
Online hearing aids are usually preset to improve the most common hearing loss issues. Although the settings are not customized to each user, they are based on data and research conducted by audiologists.
Most hearing aids allow for some level of customization by the user. Some have a smartphone app for even more fine tuning. The apps use the same type of software audiologists use to fit hearing aids. Online hearing aid manufacturers typically offer personal phone and video support to help users get the best results.
What if you need repairs or replacement?
Hearing aids sold online usually have a warranty comparable to those bought in hearing centers. Because of the high level of technology in these devices, many problems can be fixed remotely so you don’t have to mail the hearing aids to the manufacturer for adjustment or repair. Most manufacturers will replace a damaged hearing aid during the warranty period.
In most cases, buying hearing aids directly from the manufacturer online is the most cost-effective option. Value-priced devices start at about $400 a pair while the most advanced devices start at around $2,000 a pair. That’s a savings of more than 50% over hearing center prices.
Here are other tips to help you save money on your hearing aids:
In the past, the high cost of hearing aids was the biggest barrier to correcting mild-to-moderate hearing loss. Over-the-counter hearing aids are a big step toward removing that barrier. Many people can't afford to pay $5,000 or more up front for a pair of hearing aids at a hearing clinic. Buying online drops the price of hearing aids to $500 or less for the most economical models.
Sheila Olson has over two decades of experience writing about Medicare, health, and personal finance. Her work has been featured on sites such as Investopedia, The Motley Fool, and Boomer Benefits. Sheila holds a MPH (Master of Public Health) from Northern Arizona University.