When it comes to hearing healthcare, you really do get what you pay for

Though I truly wish it were otherwise, most health insurance policies do not have a benefit for hearing aids, the only available treatment for sensorineural hearing loss. And those that do often still leave a sizable amount of out-of-pocket expense. No question, good hearing healthcare is an investment. But it is an investment in one’s self that pays dividends immediately and for the rest of your life! 

There are effectively two ‘models’ when it comes to the purchase of hearing healthcare/hearing aids-‘bundled’ and ‘unbundled’. Historically, hearing aids have been dispensed using the ‘bundled’ model. In the ‘bundled’ model, the price of the hearing aids includes the actual devices plus a number of years of service/care determined by the provider. The upfront cost may be (though not always) higher in this model, but it is designed to give the patient the ongoing hearing healthcare, support and peace of mind should issues arise, which is not uncommon. With the ‘unbundled’ model, one purchases the devices at a reduced cost and a separate care/service plan, based on the number of months or years of service the patients thinks they need/want. This model is designed to potentially reduce upfront costs while also giving the patient some determination of what they want to pay for in terms of ongoing healthcare. But it’s generally comparable in price to a ‘bundled’ model, with the longer-term service plans. My concern with this model is that some patients may defer coming in to address issues due to cost concerns. You may actually end up paying more if you underestimate the amount of care/help you need. In either model, the patient is paying for care and expertise, whether up front or as they go. And when it comes to hearing healthcare, you really do get what you pay for! 

Because hearing aids are medical prosthetics designed to treat hearing loss, they are dispensed via a medical model by two different types of providers licensed by the state. Those providers, audiologists and hearing aid dispensers, are differentiated by their scope of practice & level of training, depth of knowledge and expertise in the assessment and treatment of hearing issues. The minimum educational requirement for an audiologist is a doctorate (PhD or AuD) in Audiology, versus a highschool diploma or GED equivalent to become a hearing aid dispenser. I specifically highlight the educational background because when someone is purchasing hearing aids, they are not only paying for the actual devices, they are also purchasing the time, care and expertise of the provider dispensing those hearing aids. 

Properly programming hearing aids for how that individual wishes/needs to hear is a complex process over multiple appointments, with counseling/instruction and ongoing follow-up care. And programming is only one facet of making sure individuals are getting the greatest benefit hearing aids can provide. The results one gets will be directly related to how well the provider addresses all of those many facets. That’s why this article is titled, “Bundled, Unbundled and Unwise”.

When one tries to save money (ie. Costco) with hearing healthcare, they are being penny wise and pound foolish. Unfortunately, for most, hearing healthcare is an investment. Invest wisely!

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Jonathan Lipschutz Audiologist, M.S., F-AAA, Owner

Jonathan is the owner of Berkeley Hearing Center. He received his bachelor of science in hearing and speech science and a master of science in audiology from Purdue University. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology and the California Academy of Audiology. Jonathan has over 20 years of audiology and hearing aid experience in both the non-profit and corporate sectors.

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