This past week’s blog article discussed why hearing aids are so expensive. Over the next several days I received numerous emails from our readers, some agreeing and some disagreeing with my comments. The overriding theme with all of the emails was that if we (the hearing industry) reduced the price of hearing aids, we’d sell a lot more. That’s not a bad thought and I want to look at this idea in a bit more detail.
Researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan recently performed a study to see if lowering the cost of hearing aids would motivate adults with a mild hearing loss to purchase a device at a younger age or before their hearing worsens.
The answer may shock you … it didn’t.
To determine how much of a factor cost is in hearing aid acquisition, the Henry Ford study looked at 1,200 patients who got hearing aids between 2007 and 2010. The patients had either full insurance coverage, partial insurance coverage or had to cover the entire cost out of pocket (private pay).
The study showed that simply lowering the cost of hearing aids – even by as much as 40% – does not improve hearing aid purchase for patients with partial insurance coverage or those who would need to cover the entire cost out of pocket.
Only patients with full insurance coverage for hearing aids get them at a younger age and with significantly less hearing loss then patients with partial or no coverage. Sill, those with full coverage were less likely to upgrade to more advanced devices, or purchase hearing aids for both ears than other in the study, if it meant going beyond what’s covered by insurance and having to pay for the additional costs.
“Many in health care assume that patients would more readily acquire hearing aids at a younger age or before their hearing loss becomes severe if the devices were less expensive,” says study lead author Virginia Ramachandran, Au.D., an audiologist at Henry Ford Hospital. “It’s clear from our study that patients are motivated by more than cost when deciding to purchase hearing aids.”
The study shows that patients who had full coverage for hearing aids obtained them about seven years earlier and with better hearing than the other test groups. But there was no difference in age or hearing loss between people who paid for the full cost of hearing aids or purchased hearing aids at a substantially reduced cost.
Interestingly enough, the more patients had to pay out of pocket (partial and private pay groups) the more likely they were to upgrade to a more advanced device. Patients with full coverage were the least likely to upgrade, and only purchased what was fully covered by insurance.
According to the study, the only situation in which patients were motivated to purchase hearing aids earlier is when they are provided at no cost.
Study co-author Brad A. Stach, Ph.D., points out that a lot of people view buying a hearing aid along the same line as buying a refrigerator: It’s an expensive item, so even it it’s on sale, you won’t spend the extra money unless you need it.
“On the other hand, if you need a refrigerator, you’ll shop around to get the best value for the best appliance. It’s no different with hearing aids. Most patients will only get them if they feel they need them, regardless of the cost, and will often spend a little extra to get the best device,” says Dr. Stach.
What do you think of the Henry Ford study? I’d be interested in hearing.