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Why Are Digital Hearing Aids So Expensive?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the what-the-market-will-hear dept.

Input Devices 727

sglines writes "Over the last couple of years I've been slowly getting deaf. Too much loud rock and roll I suppose. After flubbing a couple of job interviews because I couldn't understand my inquisitors, I had a hearing test which confirmed what I already knew: I'm deaf. So I tried on a set of behind-the-ear hearing aids. Wow, my keyboard makes clacks as I type and my wife doesn't mumble to herself. Then I asked how much: $3,700 for the pair. Hey, I'm unemployed. The cheapest digital hearing aids they had were $1,200 each. If you look at the specs they are not very impressive. A digital hearing aid has a low-power A-to-D converter. Output consists of D-to-A conversion with volume passing through an equalizer that inversely matches your hearing loss. Most hearing loss, mine included, is frequency dependent, so an equalizer does wonders. The 'cheap' hearing aids had only four channels while the high-end one had twelve. My 1970 amplifier had more than that. I suppose they have some kind of noise reduction circuitry, too, but that's pretty much it. So my question is this: when I can get a very good netbook computer for under $400 why do I need to pay $1,200 per ear for a hearing aid? Alternatives would be welcome."

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Why? (5, Insightful)

headkase (533448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465784)

It's a guess but a solid one: competition.

Medical... (5, Insightful)

Gription (1006467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465838)

It is a medical device which means that it is subject to insane levels of litigation. Mostly you are probably paying for insurance.

Re:Medical... (4, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465882)

and regulation/licensing on medical devices.
That's a really expensive one.

Re:Medical... (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466026)

So, the problem isn't legitimate competition among multiple companies, overseen by a reasonable, fair government,
and the distorted system of legal warfare currently pillaging a wallet very, very near you.

Re:Medical... (5, Insightful)

Romancer (19668) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466162)

I have a relative in the business. They license the popular brand name like a franchise and make obscene amounts of profit. As their single store in a strip mall with no real traffic pulls in enough for two houses and twice as many cars for the husband and wife.

They have to manage stock of some units but the majority are ordered, the overhead is the employees and some testing equipment.

The margin for profit is ridiculous.

Re:Medical... (3, Insightful)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465932)

Which is kind of insane thinking about it, a hearing aid is different from a heart stint with magnitudes order different levels of risk.

Re:Medical... (0, Troll)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466164)

Which is kind of insane thinking about it, a hearing aid is different from a heart stint with magnitudes order different levels of risk.

Unless you're finally able to hear ... and you hear a loud noise that startles you ... and you have a heart attach. What, it could happen.

Re:Medical... (5, Insightful)

ogminlo (941711) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466004)

It is a medical device which means that it is subject to insane levels of litigation. Mostly you are probably paying for insurance.

It is a medical device which means that it is subject to insane markups. Mostly they are probably paid for by insurance, so there is little attention paid to cost by consumers.

There, I fixed that for you.

Re:Medical... (0)

Peter Cooper (660482) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466182)

It is a medical device which means that it is subject to insane markups. Mostly they are probably paid for by insurance, so there is little attention paid to cost by consumers.

Consumers being the operative word. Insurance companies get massive discounts on medical devices - gotta keep the cartel propped up somehow.

Re:Medical... (0)

strider5 (15284) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466184)

Try again. You will have to search high and low to find ANY insurance company that will pay for hearing aids. Unlike people who need glasses, people who have hearing problems are very commonly discriminated against with little repercussion.

Re:Why? (1)

Q-Hack! (37846) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465954)

If you shop around, you can get a decent digital hearing aid on-line for less than $200. It may not be the top of the line, but it will get you through a job interview.

Re:Why? (5, Insightful)

NonSenseAgency (1759800) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466000)

Check out a hunting supply catalog, the same device NOT sold as a medical item cost 90% less....

Re:Why? (2, Interesting)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466138)

Competition (or the lack thereof) IS a solid bet. But the reasonsfor the lack may be uclear:

1) Government regulation. It cosst a LOT of moey to get ANY medical device approved for sale. This raises barriers to entry and prevents typically cash-starve startups from entering the marketplace.

2) Insurance. By insulating the buyer from the purchase, insurance prevents companies from having to compete on price. Sure, they COULD cut costs, but then they'd make less money per item without increasing sale. Do a GIS for 'price elasticity'.

3) Small market. Yes, there are lots of old, deaf people, but each hearing device lats a long time, so volume is kept low.

4) Liability. If ANYTHING goes wrong with a medical device, no matter how generally effective, losses range from severe to bankrupting! Once a design has been proven safe/effective, there's a strong isincentive to change anything

Result? few options an high prices. Private aircraft fall into similar market forces. Planes aren't much more complicated than go-carts with a laptop computer bolted into the panel but cost orders of magnitude more.

Medical device (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465792)

Are these thing require FDA approval?

Because they are medical devices? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465796)

I suspect if you called them "noise canceling earbuds" or added "do not use for weight loss" you could sell them much cheaper. But why would they want to do that?

Say what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465798)

Speak up, sonny!!

advisee 0.07 sec.
advisee (d-v-z)
n.
One that is advised.

Re:Say what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466098)

What?

Size (5, Insightful)

quantumplacet (1195335) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465808)

It's not complicated, hearing aids need to be very small. Neither your 1970's amp nor your netbook will fit in your ear. Making something small and reliable enough for this kind of use is difficult and expensive.

Re:Size (2, Interesting)

phoenix321 (734987) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465978)

My laptop mouse (laser + bluetooth, major brand name) has more processing power than the space shuttle. Retailed for 40 bucks plus shipping. Included is a tiny a Bluetooth transmitter that is 2mm larger than the USB-plug which almost require need a pair of pliers to remove from the USB port, so small is it.

An 64mb mp3-player / USB-stick device plus earbuds can be had for nothing, so the store doesn't have to pay for its disposal.

Hearing aids may be smaller and more complicated than an el-cheapo mp3-player, but I doubt there's more electronic magic going on inside than in a Bluetooth-cordless miniature laser mouse. In comparison with the two devices I mentioned, I would expect the price for hearing aids to be somewhere between 0 and 100 bucks. (dollars, euros)

If they cost 3700 USD, they represent the worth of 100 major brand name Bluetooth laser mice or 500 small mp3-players or 2 quality ULV-based laptops - or 10 iPhones. That is preposterous.

Re:Size (5, Funny)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466100)

"Neither your 1970's amp nor your netbook will fit in your ear."

That's a little presumptuous. Have you actually SEEN his ear?

Approval process? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465814)

I don't wear one nor do I know anything about the industry....but just a guess - do hearing aids need to have some kind of FDA approval or similar Health Dept. certification? Or is it the person (or doctor) prescribing/ calibrating the hearing aid similar to the optometrist (measuring your near/far sightedness)? After all, it's not all that trivial to figure out your prescription, but the eye doc needs to have such degree.

Again, I don't know what I'm talking about, but this is just an avenue to consider.

Because...... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465818)

Its a medical device. Add in the cost of malpractice insurance for the manufacturer and everyone down the distribution chain and you have the answer.

Supply and Demand? (1)

Padrino121 (320846) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465820)

Although the technology itself is not very new the packaging (behind the ear or in ear hearing aids are purpose built devices) is left to a few specialized companies. That in addition to the fact that the market will bear these prices, assuming statistically older people with generally more resources are buying, and you are left with the prices you are running into. I recently had a similar experience with a good friends mother and after 6K for the pair with a fairly heavy hit on the savings account she is happy as can be and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Re:Supply and Demand? (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466096)

The price will probably drop as demand increases, and based on how loud many have their MP3 players turned up, it will increase.

Used (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465832)

There are companies which refurbish hearing aids. You can find them on the web. They take the old hearing aid, sterilize it, and put it into an earpiece which is suitable for you ear. Google and you should find them.

One word: insurance (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465840)

Like anything in health care most people won't be paying for this directly out of pocket; they can charge whatever they want.

$400 Laptop (5, Insightful)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465842)

Well, if you have software on your $400 laptop that can do the digital to analog / analog to digital just like you say, the solution is clear: hold one laptop up to each ear.

That's still going to be $800, but that's a lil' cheaper than the $1200 pair you were looking at.

Re:$400 Laptop (3, Funny)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465972)

Well, if you have software on your $400 laptop that can do the digital to analog / analog to digital just like you say, the solution is clear: hold one laptop up to each ear.

That's still going to be $800, but that's a lil' cheaper than the $1200 pair you were looking at.

That's just silly. Holding them up, really, is that the best you can come up with? It's obvious that they should be suspended as earrings.

Use a netbook (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465844)

Grab that netbook, setup ASIO for low latency audio in/out. Grab FFDshow, start a directshow graph which takes audio from the mic & sends it to the speaker. Addin FFDSHOW audio filter in between mic and speaker. Adjust the mixer of ffdshow filter, and possible turn on other noise reducders. Place some earbuds into your ears and ffdshow settings for correct noise levels.

You'll need graph edit for adding filters together. You may also need an external mic boom. And of course you'll have to walk around with a netbook. But it may work? You should probably work on this with a desktop you already own before investing any money of course. And it might not sound as good as the dedicated solution, but maybe you can save some money.

Could possible make an iPhone/iPod app as well.

Alternative (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Cowpat (788193) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465848)

If you're actually deaf, and live in a first world country, get yourself registered deaf and tell potential employers about it before you go to interview.

Re:Alternative (2, Insightful)

Dragoniz3r (992309) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465944)

I think he's looking for a solution to his inability to hear things (including his wife), not for ways to get a job despite his condition.

Re:Alternative (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466006)

I suspect, given the entitled attitude of the entire question, that hearing loss isn't the only reason this dude is unemployed.

Re:Alternative (5, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466120)

Entitled attitude? This guy is trying to save money or find an alternative solution to a problem, as he can't afford the options he's seen so far. We should frikkin' elect him to public office.

Re:Alternative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466132)

What entitled attitude of the question?
The guy is merely asking why these devices are so expensive

Re:Alternative (2, Insightful)

davester666 (731373) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466034)

If he did this, he would be looking to be employed for his condition.

Re:Alternative (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466036)

Ah but his inability to fix his hearing problem with a hearing aid is directly connected to his joblessness since he can't afford a hearing aid without a job!

I am in the same boat too with these things (4, Insightful)

Darkk (1296127) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465850)

I too have to wear one and it's ungodly expensive. My argument is the fact I need them to have a normal life and work. So if people can get glasses for fairly low price and it's a item that people need then why can't insurance companies provide coverage too? Reason for that it's very specialized market and expensive.

Don't get one of those cheapie $49.95 hearing aids from the ads as they do not provide the proper specs to the type of hearing loss you have. In fact it'll make your hearing worse. It'll be like listening to iPod all day long.

See if they can offer a payment plan.

Good luck.

Re:I am in the same boat too with these things (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466118)

In my experience, it has also been battery package design and safety that requires a lot of testing/Research to get it into such a compact form factor and offer decent battery life.

medical and research (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465852)

It's my experience that anything labelled medical, nuclear, or laboratory grade, usually costs several times (2x-5x) more than if it weren't.

Voc Rehab (5, Informative)

JeffTL (667728) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465854)

I'd suggest that you contact your state's vocational rehabilitation office, which specializes in equipping people with assistive technology so they can be productive members of society (i.e., get and keep a decent job). My fiancée is deaf, and she got a nice Phonak digital aid, a Naida V if memory serves, from the State of Nebraska last year (she uses a cochlear implant in the other ear and only needed one, but two can be arranged as well).

Re:Voc Rehab (1)

Darkk (1296127) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466010)

Years ago the doctors suggested to get the implant too but I can hear ok most of the time.

What risks are associated with surgery? It used to be 50/50 chance which is why I didn't do it.

Economies of scale, likely (1)

eWalker (585020) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465858)

Likely, there is an 'economy-of-scale' element at play here. If they have to develop custom hardware for such a device, then it can be a huge challenge for them to cover their costs. A surprising 18% of Americans have some for of hearing disability: http://disabilityhistoryinamerica.wetpaint.com/page/Disability+Statistics+In+America [wetpaint.com] You have to look at the addressable market size for these companies; if there are other countries internationally who do not have a large percentage of their population who use hearing devices. Compare this with netbooks where almost any person is a candidate for a new machine. That's a much more large addressable market for a computer manufacturer. That being said, I'm with you, I wish these devices could be far more affordable.

Why? Let me count the ways... (0, Flamebait)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465862)

"...why do I need to pay $1200 per ear for a hearing aid?

The answer to your question? Where do I start. Greed. Politics. Corruption. Lawyers. Lawsuits. Pick one. Pick all of them. They all are the reasons we pay so damn much for anything related to health care. (And for the record, NO, I do NOT believe that Obama-care is the fucking answer here.)

It's very sad, but also very true, and unfortunately, since you've already broken down the science behind the $183 worth of parts that make up your average $2000 hearing aid, a "cheaper" alternative I don't really have for you outside of the DIY realm. Although the thought of an open-source hearing aide is interesting, which something along those lines to offer some REAL competition is the only thing that is going to drive prices down where they should be.

Hey! (2, Insightful)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465906)

Stop complaining, you! That 1000% mark-up is nothing compared to the cost of a Tylenol in a hospital! You should be grateful they are so cheap!

Re:Why? Let me count the ways... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465968)

obama-care? are you referring to the legislature creating in congressional or senate committee? what do you hope to accomplish by using this vauge slur? Do you think that present HCR (either senate, house, or reconciled versions) are worse than status quo? Can you please explain how? Please don't treat me as hostile; I probably agree with every complaint you have. however, I am curious about what role you feel you have in constructive reform.

Re:Why? Let me count the ways... (3, Insightful)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466002)

So you heard it everyone. Geekmux has issues a challenge!

First someone start a wiki to organize the project.
Someone make the hardware specs. Some A/D, D/A converters, some processing. Someone write the software. How small can an Arduino be made? Someone contact Bre Pettis about cheap fabbing of the housing body.

It doesn't have to be commercially viable. It just has to work and be easy enough to make that the local hackerspace can make them for their friends and loved ones. The threat of competition alone will drive down prices enormously. Don't worry about patents and trademarks. We aren't going to be selling these, we're going to give the plans out FREE in so many places any hacker can make one.

This is the new world Cory Doctorow has been writing about.
GO!

Re:Why? Let me count the ways... (1)

Skinkie (815924) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466082)

So where is the URL? More interesting mostlikely some geeks do end up with an unlimited spectrum modifiable low-latency digital device that natively supports remote connections instead of LF rings. Might be even as cool as directly doing a call with a remote device.

Re:Why? Let me count the ways... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466180)

Greed. Politics. Corruption. Lawyers. Lawsuits. Pick one. Pick all of them. They all are the reasons we pay so damn much for anything related to health care. (And for the record, NO, I do NOT believe that Obama-care is the fucking answer here.)

Wow, crazy much?

I don't know about this "Obama-care" you speak of, but it seems like government subsidies for these sorts of less common medical devices (for which supply and demand will predict high cost) is the way to go. I've heard that similar subsidies exist for braille computer screens for the blind (which are also expensive).

By the way, I heard CBO says that tort reform won't drive costs down more than 1%. So you can cross that off your list of made up reasons why stuff is expensive.

$3700? Chump change. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465870)

Try complaining about a cochlear implant, which runs from $50k to $100k.

Re:$3700? Chump change. (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466028)

100k certainly seems a bit high; but I can't say I'm much surprised that a little battery powered widget that gets shoved in your ear canal, pretty much exactly the same as an in-ear monitor but with a mic and some DSP magic, is far cheaper than anything that involves surgically interfacing with your nervous system, mere inches from your brain...

Re:$3700? Chump change. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466052)

The thing is that a cochlear implant is hard to put in, while you can just take a hearing aid on and off like earbuds (I think).

The ear contains the smallest bones of the human body, and they break extremely easily. Go past them and put something into the cochlea, it's not easy nor cheap.

I'm not an expert, but... (1)

Bourdain (683477) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465872)

...I'd imagine basic rules of economics and capitalism are at work here, i.e.

If these things really cost so much less, someone would produce them and sell them for less. While you can get a netbook for a few hundred dollars, keep in mind that it is using largely shared/similar hardware and is not required to be ultra small to the extent that is can be worn. The degree of precision engineering to make a high quality hearing aid is understandably not insignificant.

You could walk around with a netbook, a microphone, and a pair of headphones if you like :)

It seems there are indeed less expensive models out there that might do the job -- I'd check out http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18519576 [nih.gov] and http://www.amazon.com/MDHearingAid-Acoustitone-PRO-Hearing-Aid/dp/B002RH4SN4 [amazon.com]

Good luck :)

Hearing aid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465876)

Humble suggestion: get a cheap analog unit to hold you over until you get a job with benefits -- insurance may cover them. There are cheap Asian knockoffs that may work, but one can only speculate how good (or bad) they would work.

Netbooks aren't DME (4, Informative)

TSHTF (953742) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465880)

On a recent flight, I heard an older man talk to the woman he was sitting next to about this same issue.

Hearing aids tend to be classified as DME (durable medical equipment). Medical equipment has a higher support cost than netbooks, and the insurance companies are happy to pay. The cost of entry in the DME market is much higher the netbook market.

Although there is a huge market for the product, the liabilities involved in selling these products significantly raises the risk, and therefore the price, in such products.

Perfect Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465886)

Stick your laptop in your ear.

Hearing Aids are usually custom made (4, Informative)

Rocky (56404) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465888)

Decent ones that your wear all the time are typically molded to the inside of your ear and hand-adjusted. This means a real person has to touch them and they can't be mass-manufactured, similar to dental devices like crowns and such (which are comparable in cost).

Re:Hearing Aids are usually custom made (4, Informative)

rudedog (7339) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466042)

No. The earmold is purchased separately from the hearing aid and attached via a plastic tube. You can buy earmolds for well under $100, and there is actually a market outside of hearing aids for them, such as high-end stereo headphones and monitor headphones worn by musicians. The earmold is attached to the aid with a $1.00 plastic tube, which you usually change every 3 months or so. The aid is programmed by plugging it into a computer (the interface is usually via the battery door). The aid itself can easily be mass-manufactured, since once size does fit all.

Re:Hearing Aids are usually custom made (1)

Rocky (56404) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466110)

Hey - that's how they did it on "How it's Made"!

Insurance (1)

peterofoz (1038508) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465890)

A couple of reasons why they might be so expensive:
  1. Insurance (or Social Security) will pay
  2. Lack of competition
  3. Low volumes

I think you are right that there is no really good reason anymore for why these should be so expensive. The reason 20 years ago might have been state of the art electronics and cost of miniaturization. Looks like its time for an open source hardware project, just watch your step on the patents.

A quick search shows Walmart selling hearing aids for about $400

Re:Insurance (1)

u38cg (607297) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466076)

One of these days, I'm going to write an economics paper on what I call convergopolies. These are markets where the players converge to offering very similar products, targeted at identical segments at similar pricing. UK supermarkets are a great example - I don't know if US ones are the same, but here we have several supermarkets who offer almost identical product ranges, with similar segmentation (premium/standard/value) and fairly close pricing. The effect of a convergopoly is that the players believe they are competing with each other, but in fact they aren't. They're all raking in fat profits.

Convergopolies seem to be common in areas where you can extract economies of scale, where customers are 'liquid', and where the barriers to entry are not that high. I suspect hearing aids fit that definition quite nicely.

Re:Insurance (1)

Homburg (213427) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466170)

I'm going to write an economics paper on what I call convergopolies.

Aren't you just giving a new name to what everyone else calls "markets"? A perfectly free market will reach equilibrium (by definition - neoclassical economics is tautological), that is, it will converge on optimal behavior. Though there might be more than one optimum, it doesn't seem surprising that a number of market participants would converge on the same optimum.

Re:Insurance (1)

rudedog (7339) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466114)

There are very few health insurance plans in the US that pay for hearing aids. I have always had to pay out of pocket for my hearing aids and I have always had decent insurance plans. They've just never covered hearing aids.

Lack of competition and low volume are the two biggest factors.

I don't know much about Walmart's brand; it's certainly not one of the big players. Depending on the original poster's hearing loss, their aids may or may not be suitable for him. They would not be suitable for me because of the frequencies and severity of my hearing loss.

uhh (3, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465892)

Why Are Digital Hearing Aids So Expensive?

What???

Companion Mic (1)

Delta (16579) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465898)

Hi,

No idea about pros and cons and so on, but figured it could be interesting to take a peek at these for a less expensive solution, even though different.

http://www.etymotic.com/ephp/compmic.aspx [etymotic.com]

Do it yourself (1)

TClevenger (252206) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465900)

Design one, build a factory and start making them. I'm sure Costco would be happy to put in their hearing centers and undercut everyone else like they do with glasses now.

Not to make fun of you (4, Insightful)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465904)

But this is why it's important to wear ear protection for such seemingly innocuous tasks such as mowing the lawn (or any loud task, really). So many kids back then and still these days listening to their personal music players via headphones where you can hear the music from across the street. It's just stupid and a few $ of protection today will save you $$$ in the long run.

I have relatives going deaf with age, watching TV with them is not fun. TV volumes set at a level wear I have to wear ear protection.

Re:Not to make fun of you (1)

u38cg (607297) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466106)

Mmm. No-one is taking it seriously yet, but the iPod generation is putting in train what will be a massive public health issue some twenty-thirty years from now. Huge numbers of people are listening to music levels of 95dB+ on a regular basis and they are damaging their hearing irreversibly.

Re:Not to make fun of you (1)

Matey-O (518004) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466112)

My hearing loss was caused by years of non-pain level wind buffeting from driving a convertible. They're learning that a lot of Dive Masters are going deaf from the sound of purging the SCUBA tanks. It's not just Rock Concerts and Jet Planes that cause deafness.

Re:Not to make fun of you (1)

doesnothingwell (945891) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466144)

I have relatives going deaf with age, watching TV with them is not fun. TV volumes set at a level wear I have to wear ear protection.

I gave grandma an fm radio transmitter and attached it to the tv, she sits next to her own reciever and I don't get blasted anymore.

Netbook solution (1)

poptones (653660) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465914)

OK, here's all you gotta do: get a netbook (or maybe a pocket PC device like an old compaq); install a minimal linux and alsa, buy a pair of high quality earbuds and hook it all up. Now you got a $400 digital hearing aid you can carry in your pocket. If you're really a geek maybe you can even get into the whole "box with wires" thing - think Gordon Cole... and, hopefully, it would work better for you than it did for him. WHAT THE HELL DID HE SAY, THERE, ALBERT? THAT'S SPECIAL AGENT DALE COOPER!

Re:Netbook solution (2, Interesting)

Peganthyrus (713645) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466174)

and while you're at it, why not stream everything you hear to storage at home? Drive space is cheap. Hell, run it through voice recognition while you're at it, have a semi-coherent text transcription of the rest of your life

If you're gonna be a cyborg, be a cyborg.

Well, you might be luckier on the price than.... (1)

Robin47 (1379745) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465924)

... I was. It seems maybe the price has come down some. I paid $8,000 for mine 2 years ago and they are 16 channel but I have 75% and 90% loss and couldn't get by without them. Inherited nerve deafness. I still can't here the keyboard though.. oh, wait! never mind. I hear Bluetooth is gonna be incorporated in the next generation.

It's a medical device, not a consumer item! (4, Insightful)

maxfresh (1435479) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465926)

First, it's a medical device, not a commodity consumer item like a netbook, so its manufacturer must prove both its safety and effectiveness, with independent tests, before it can be licensed for sale by the FDA in the U.S., or the corresponding medical regulatory authority in other countries. That process is time consuming, and expensive. Those costs must be paid for, and are reflected in the price. Second, its technology requires extremely low power circuitry, and a much higher level of miniaturization, than a netbook. These factors too, naturally increase the cost of the device.

Business opportunity (0, Offtopic)

Bob-o-Matic! (620698) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465930)

Well, it seems like you have found an opportunity for a new business. Good luck with finding free engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution services. Maybe you need to benefit from economy of scale. You may be able to expand your market by promoting free rock concerts at crowded subway stations.

Lots of reasons (1, Troll)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465934)

It's a medical device - that means it's subject to more stringent controls and potential law suites. It can actually deafen someone if it fails in the right way. It can cause someone to not hear that car and get hit. These people can sue.

It's a specialty item made in more limited production runs than a netbook. Less people can be expected to purchase decent hearing aids (ironically in part because they're expensive). Bit of a viscous cycle there - if they were cheaper more people would buy them which would make them cheaper.

Finally our medical tech companies are greedy. The whole business is about cornering someone so that they need your product or end up with a shite quality of life and then milking them.

I'm the bread winner in my family. My wife wears 2 hearing aids. The model she uses are mid range. They cost about $3k each in Australian dollars on the Aussie market and have to be replaced roughly every 5 years. I'm still greatful she can hear me. I do wish they were cheaper.

Cost of certifications & lawsuits is in there (1)

Moskit (32486) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465938)

Price covers not just hardware, but also testing and getting certifications that this product is safe for prolonged use on people. Probably part of the cost is also an "insurance" against future lawsuits due to malfunctions.

Hardware (Cost of Goods Sold) is the least part of the price.

Re:Cost of certifications & lawsuits is in the (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466084)

I would guess that the hearing aid is totally encumbered by patents and that the barriers to entry are huge. Leaving just few manufacturers to price (fix) as they like.

Also, product liability insurance is a big factor. Many years ago I was going to buy a Cessna 182. $150,000 new. After calling Cessna a few times, they told me that the product liability premium that they paid on that model aircraft was $75,000. Go figure.

Something (1)

Derosian (943622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465962)

Probably along the same lines as to why it costs $120-300 for a pair of prescription glasses at a store, but you can get similar quality for only 40 dollars online.

Size -is- everything, no matter what she says. (2, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465964)

When you can fit that $400 laptop in your ear, then you can stop wondering why hearing aids cost so much.

Re:Size -is- everything, no matter what she says. (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466188)

When you can fit that $400 laptop in your ear, then you can stop wondering why hearing aids cost so much.

Exactly. This question is somewhat similar to the arguments I'll hear regarding low-cost laptops. There'd always be one guy who'd say "Why should I pay $1700 for that Vaio/Mac/Thinkpad when I got this perfectly good HP for $600?" Sure, if you ignore the fact that the HP in question is almost two inches thick and weighs 9 pounds, while the Vaio/Mac/Thinkpad in question is under an inch thick and weighs 4 or 5 pounds.

Somehow even technical people manage to miss the fact that engineering something to be small is more expensive than building an otherwise spec-equivalent device that's significantly larger.

Why? (1)

YouDoNotWantToKnow (1516235) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465966)

Why do I need to pay $1200 per ear for a hearing aid?


Because you need it.

2 words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465970)

medical device

Medical Devices and Like Hotel Rooms (1)

BlueBoxSW.com (745855) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466024)

If you pay the rack rate listed, you're getting screwed.

An insurance company is going to have an agreement with the company, and will probably pay half of the sticker price.

The trick will be talking to the right person who can give you a discount in exchange for paying cash.

Why so much? (1)

Chas (5144) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466038)

Welcome to the wonderful world of medical equipment billing.

Most of the time these devices are relatively inexpensive to build. Maybe 1-200 per if you figure in all the safety certifications.
But a lot of these are going to people with insurance that pays for this sort of thing. So the suppliers are charging 'what the market will bear'.

Guess that depends on where you live (1)

broothal (186066) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466056)

why do I need to pay $1200 per ear for a hearing aid? In my country, you would get a $1200 hearing aid for free. If you want a more expensive model, the government pays the first $1200 and your insurance pays the rest.

Think of it another way..... (2, Insightful)

nighty5 (615965) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466060)

Invest in yourself that money to start hearing. It wil help you get a job easier and may improve your relationship your wife due to clearer comunication although it's not clear if that's a problem :) Back in 1982 I spent about $US5,000 on at the time a top of the line non PC computer for the work I was involved in. To put that into perspective my house which I bought around the time cost about $US28,000.

A possible cheaper alternative (1)

dracphelan (916527) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466062)

I'm not sure if they will provide the amplification you need, but look at the electronic hearing protection offered for hunters. The in the ear models run anywhere from $30 to $400. As to why the medically prescribed ones cost so much. That is simple. Insurance pays for them for most people.

Re:A possible cheaper alternative (1)

rudedog (7339) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466150)

As to why the medically prescribed ones cost so much. That is simple. Insurance pays for them for most people.

No, it does not. Very few insurance plans in the US cover hearing aids, or even cover hearing tests.

You want a magic cheap solution? (2, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466064)

$3700 doesn't sound so bad for something that improves your quality of life so much. Comparing the price to a laptop is so beyond what's reasonable it's pointless to even discuss why. Let's move beyond that.

Ultimately it doesn't really matter if you can't afford it. So what are your alternatives? Buy something cheap that's likely to not work as well, or try to find some benevolent entity that will pay for all or part of your hearing aid. Government aid? Private charities? I don't know what's available, but others do. I'd start by dialing 211 (most of the country this will hook you up with United Way volunteers) and see if they can help you.

Because you're not a Socialist COMMIE.. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466068)

..and you live in a country without universal healthcare

Shop around (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466086)

I got both ears from around 800 in the DFW area.

Miniaturization (2, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466092)

Anyone can squeeze a microphone, an AD/DA converter, a 15 channel DSP driven parametric equalizer and amp into a box the size of a toaster oven. But not many can stick it in your ear, and have it fit properly.

Explanation (1)

brennz (715237) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466094)

The manufacturing conglomerates in Big Hearing Aid are making those windfall profits in the billions of dollars. We need to raise taxes on them so they stop exploiting tax loopholes. Down with Big Hearing Aid!

The Markup - Plus A Funding Suggestion (2, Insightful)

beadfulthings (975812) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466104)

I think it's because they're medical devices, and the makers charge whatever the traffic will bear. Insurance pays for most people, after all. Ever look at the markup on a pair of plain old eyeglasses? Even with the preparation of lenses with your prescription, it's pretty terrible.

The suggestion: If you've been diagnosed as functionally deaf by a physician, and if you're in fact unemployed, why not nose around and see if there's a benefit available to you from your state? It's an assistive device, and there may be some sort of loan, grant, or other fundage available to you. That might be especially true if you're not going to be able to locate and keep a paying job without one. Look at vocational rehab stuff.

Alternative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466122)

Just an idea, but if you can make the trip to mexico, I strongly doubt you've have to deal with such an expensive price tag on those hearing aids. I lived in El Paso, TX for three years and enjoyed Mexican medical care while I was there. Very cheap and surprisingly respectable quality.

There are less expensive alternatives (5, Informative)

eclectro (227083) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466136)

There is the songbird [songbirdhearing.com] brand of hearing aids that are far less than a traditional hearing aid. The disposable (400 hours of use) is $80 USD plus shipping. The permanent one is $280.

Secondly, I might would consider a pocket type [activeforever.com] hearing amplifier with a traditional earphone. It may save on expensive batteries and be easier on the ear physically.

The higher cost of hearing aids came from the miniaturization, and the price has stayed high. However, with surface mount components now readily available, I expect that there will be more competition in this space.

I commend you for taking care of this. I have a family member that refuses to admit to his hearing loss, and it truly can be a miserable experience being around him because he takes offense at things that people did not really say, but that he misheared.

Also, you are in my thoughts/prayers during this time of unemployment struggle for many of us.

Lots of people have speculated reasons (4, Informative)

jimicus (737525) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466140)

And, I hate to say it but I rather think lots of people are wrong.

The few who have basically said "because they can get away with it" - congratulations.

From the tone of your post (mentioning prices in $), I'm assuming you're in the US. Which is a bit of a shame because these people [hearingdirect.com] have just opened up with a view to putting the proverbial cat among the pigeons. Maybe you know someone in the UK who can post a hearing aid on to you?

This is the core problem of Health Care (1)

Auckerman (223266) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466158)

Everyone is always spending someone elses money, so the part of the market (the consumer) that's supposed to lower prices doesn't do it's job.

Insured people are spending the insurance companies money. The insurance companies are spending the money coming in from premiums, which are usually paid by the company the insured person is working for. The health care providers are spending the insurance companies money. There is little to no market pressure to lower prices. The only party who is interested in lowering cost is the guy paying for the insurance, but their employees are telling them they want the best coverage known to man with price being no object.

You want to know why wages were stagnant since the dot com bust? Companies spend somewhere around 25% more on workers during that time, with almost every penny going to health care.

This is why every nation other than the US has centralized healthcare, do varying degrees. The government acts as the voice in lowering prices. They are literally hundreds of strategies they use, some more effective than others.

Why do hearing aids cost a fortune? You can blame the rest population for NEVER looking at prices.

Medical equipment is the short answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31466168)

Rule of thumb is add a zero to the price if it's medical equipment and two zeroes if it's surgical equipment. Why? Because they can and competition doesn't help because of a little tradition called price fixing. I can buy a surgical scalpel out of a hobby store I know for under $10, sterile and in it's packaging. Where as the same scalpel would cost 10X as much out of a medical supply house. I'm sure the company making them claims that they are selling the hobby store seconds but I'd bet money the same production line feeds two boxes one for the hobby store and one for the medical supply house. Why don't medical supply houses buy the hobby stuff? Some probably do and jack up the prices but others don't want to deal with uncertified equipment. Oh how do I get two zeroes? Check your bill for the surgery you just had. That $50 scalpel just cost you $250 because of the hospital mark up. Even worse some equipment is sterilized and reused but oddly enough you get charged full price just the same. It's a scam and it's why we pay the highest rates in the world.

Cuba weekend trip? :) (1)

dragisha (788) | more than 4 years ago | (#31466178)

Or some other backwards location :)

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