Chart displaying overlap between clinician services, patient's pathology, and hearing instrument technology information.

There is more to treating hearing loss than simply buying a hearing aid.

Why are hearing aids so expensive? That’s a valid question and deserves a forthright answer!

By the time a product reaches the market, there are many costs in engineering that went into it. Hearing aids are absolutely the best example of this fact.

The world is in a technology revolution. For example, at the just-ended 2016 Hearing Innovation Expo, a new MEMS microphone-driven hearing aid was released, which cost $30 million in research and development (R&D). This is just one manufacturer’s research and development spending. The top six manufacturers are Oticon, Phonak, ReSound, Sivantos (formerly Siemens), Starkey and Widex. The total R&D spend of these six was $500 million last year. These companies are highly competitive and passionate about engineering the world’s best hearing correction devices. They all have stables of MIT-level engineers. This level of investment must be recouped in the price the patient will pay. So you ask, “Why are hearing aids so expensive?” This is only one reason.

“But,” you say, “I’ve seen cheaper hearing aids.” This is true, but you’ll be buying old technology and without any clinical care fit to your specific hearing pathology. Today’s hearing instruments are programmed for the type of loss (sensorineural, conductive or a combination of both types) and custom-programmed for both your left and right sides.

A second answer to “Why are hearing aids so expensive?” has to do with the area of the country where you live. The price-per-square-foot in clinical offices may be $12/ft in Waco, Texas and $82/ft in Manhattan, New York. This overhead cost affects all products you purchase there. For example, dentistry also costs more in high-rent districts than in low-rent districts.

So, you may say, “I’ll just go purchase my hearing aids in a state with low rent costs.” This is not a good idea for one main reason. Hearing aids are not like a clock radio or a TV set that rarely needs service. Hearing aids are worn in the ear canal, which sweats the same amount as your forehead. It’s not “if” your hearing aids fail, it’s “when.” You can expect they will never quit at a convenient time. You need to purchase better hearing locally for this reason. Hearing clinicians keep a fully-equipped lab for immediate repair, so you can still make it to your granddaughter’s recital on time.

And finally, one more answer to “Why are hearing aids so expensive?”

Audiologists are autonomous professionals who identify, assess and manage disorders of the auditory, balance and other neural systems. As you would hope, this is a professional occupation with a defined career track. This career includes, but is not limited to, the provision of hearing care by selecting, evaluating, fitting, facilitating adjustment to and dispensing prosthetic devices for hearing loss—including hearing aids, sensory aids, hearing assistive devices, alerting and telecommunication systems and captioning devices. The cost of education is another reason why hearing aids are so expensive.

Anyone considering the purchase of better hearing should consider the cost of ownership over a five-year period. For example, if you wear your instruments 12 hours a day, 360 days a year, over a five-year time span, you would wear your instruments around 22,000 hours. You will probably find that your cost per hour is between 23 cents and 36 cents per hour, depending on the technology level. In my opinion, to stay in the intellectual company of friends, to be able to hear the TV at normal level, to not have to ask a friend what was said, to be able to hear the preacher, and go out to dinner with my friends afterward is worth 23- to 36 cents per hour.  So, in this case, how would you answer the question, “Why are hearing aids so expensive?” Knowing these facts, you might say, “They’re worth every dollar.”

To further illustrate this point, please watch this video showing the intricate processes entailed in making one hearing aid.