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Why Can't Industry Design an Affordable Hearing Aid?

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the what-the-market-will-bear dept.

Medicine 549

Hugh Pickens writes "Tricia Romano writes in the NY Times that over the last 10 years, purchasing a hearing aid had become even more difficult and confusing than buying a new car — and almost as expensive. 'I visited Hearx, the national chain where I had bought my previous aids. There, a fastidious young man spread out a brochure for my preferred brand, Siemens, and showed me three models. The cheapest, a Siemens Motion 300, started at $1,600. The top-of-the-line model was more than $2,000 — for one ear. I gasped.' A hearing aid is basically just a microphone and amplifier in your ear so it isn't clear why it costs thousands of dollars while other electronic equipment like cellphones, computers and televisions have gotten cheaper. Russ Apfel, an engineer who designed a technology now found in all hearing aids, says there is no good reason for the high prices. 'The hearing aid industry uses every new thing, like digital or a new algorithm, to raise prices,' says Apfel. 'The semiconductor industry traditionally reduces the cost of products by 10 to 15 percent a year,' he said, but 'hearing aids go up 8 percent a year annually' and have for the last 20 years."

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three words, one hyphen: (5, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 2 years ago | (#41784103)

for-profit healthcare

Re:three words, one hyphen: (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784155)

very true. I wonder what the companies profit margins are.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (4, Funny)

narcc (412956) | about 2 years ago | (#41784691)

I haven't checked, but I'll bet they'd even make Apple blush...

Re:three words, one hyphen: (5, Insightful)

malraid (592373) | about 2 years ago | (#41784165)

It's not only this. Insurance also drives prices up for regular consumer. If everyone paid out of pocket, I can assure you it would be way cheaper.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (5, Insightful)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#41784211)

and lots of people who need them wouldn't get them...

Re:three words, one hyphen: (3, Insightful)

Hadlock (143607) | about 2 years ago | (#41784359)

If teenagers can afford a smart phone (+ monthly data plan), I suspect a usable hearing aid could be manufactured for the same price, even if it doesn't have 3G internet and multitouch display.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (3, Insightful)

malraid (592373) | about 2 years ago | (#41784437)

Maybe lots of people wouldn't be able to get them. Or maybe prices would drop enough that you be looking at most people being able to get them. Given the nature of most electronic products, I wouldn't be surprised if competition wouldn't drive prices down so much that most people who have insurance right now, would be able to afford them (basic models close to what people pay right now for the insurance copay). In that scenario (which might be too idealistic), some people wouldn't be able to get them anyhow, same as now people without insurance don't have much option.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (3, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#41784609)

Given the nature of most electronic products, I wouldn't be surprised if competition wouldn't drive prices down so much that

The iPad mini is evidence that competition doesn't reliably drive prices down.

When you have products that are highly desirable (and if you're hearing-impaired, a hearing aid is highly desirable) then prices will stay as high as people are willing to pay.

There is no "law of supply and demand". It's a fiction.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (4, Informative)

MBCook (132727) | about 2 years ago | (#41784651)

How many people who need them now don't get them because they can't afford $2k+ when they should be paying maybe $250?

I know that's the case for at least two of my relatives.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (4, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41784239)

It's not only this. Insurance also drives prices up for regular consumer. If everyone paid out of pocket, I can assure you it would be way cheaper.

This stuff almost feels like defense contracts, actually. Easier to throw money around when it's someone else's money.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (3, Funny)

jhoegl (638955) | about 2 years ago | (#41784269)

Insurance companies barter/bargain for the lowest prices.
They say, we have this many people over this age, and they are likely to buy hearing aids. Give us a deal and we will pay it minus the copay
If it were individual, it would be like a car salesman... attempting to charge the highest price, ask you to take out a loan and pay it.
Some people will barter, but we all know the for-profit from OP was correct.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (0)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 2 years ago | (#41784435)

I tried paying for a new car with one phat check paid in full. The sale guy said my cost would go up by a few grand unless I financed through their loan department. Toyota Financial. Basically, they want to bank on the interest rate.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784467)

A medical doctor I later tried unsuccessfully to fuck told me that one factor in skyrocketing healthcare costs, in America at least, was the increasingly litigious environment driving up malpractice insurance and prompting medical centers to order increasing numbers of unnecessary tests so the patient won't come back later and sue the living piss out of the hospital because they had missed something unrelated to what the patient came in for.

It's funny how the American pigs point the finger at "greedy insurance companies" even as they considered suing that mom-and-pop store for millions of dollars because they almost slipped on a floor.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Re:three words, one hyphen: (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784473)

Sorry, but you've been misinformed. If you have any medical procedure done, you can call them and ask for a discount because you are uninsured and paying out-of-pocket. Although they are not obligated to do so, they usually will, and you will often only have to pay 25%ish of the original costs.
If you think my surgeon would have made me come up with $16k (the amount they billed my insurance for) cash for my 1-hour procedure if I had no insurance, then you have a strong misunderstanding of how the healthcare industry works. I'd like to think I know at least a little bit about it. After all, I'm employed at a hospital.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784633)

It's not only this. Insurance also drives prices up for regular consumer. If everyone paid out of pocket, I can assure you it would be way cheaper.

You have assured everyone of this and you have been modded +5 Insightful.

Can anyone show me where this is shown to be true with a very high degree of certainty and credibility?

Because to me, this just shows that even a majority of Slashdotters have fallen on populist craziness these days. When people turn so insane their minds stop working and they can just chase a dream.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784271)

for-profit healthcare

One only need observe the non-profit cell phone market to see the wisdom of your sentiment.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784323)

Can you cite the costs for the same device in non-for-profit countries? I dare ya.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (1)

guruevi (827432) | about 2 years ago | (#41784415)

Payed for by the government but still lists at 3000 (Belgium) - my great-aunt payed EUR 500 copay and she lives on welfare

Re:three words, one hyphen: (1)

Mike Buddha (10734) | about 2 years ago | (#41784401)

Oh, I thought you were going to say mal-practice insurance.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (5, Insightful)

jmichaelg (148257) | about 2 years ago | (#41784449)

I'll see your three words and go in two; no hyphen: Regulatory Capture.

Healthcare is expensive because the government passes scores of rules that benefit the incumbents and keep out innovation. They pass those regulations because someone ends getting richer as a result.

  Ear Trumpet's developers [] received a cease and desist from the FDA after they published an iPhone App that tested your hearing and then loaded an equalizer to adapt playback response according to the test results. That's all they were selling - a test and an equalizer with presets. But you can't buy it anymore because the FDA objected.

Another case in point. One of my students' father was trained as an M.D. in China. The family emigrated to the U.S. and the father had to go through medical school all over just to prove he knew what he was doing. The only thing that improved in med school was his English. Were he, and hundreds of thousands other fully capable practitioners, able to come here and just hang out their shingle, you'd see health care costs plummet. But no. The medical profession protects its own from competition by convincing everyone they know best by limiting the number of doctors and med students.

Healthcare would be a hell of a lot cheaper if the government stayed the hell out of it.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784709)

Healthcare would be a hell of a lot cheaper if patent law were reformed. FTFY

Re:three words, one hyphen: (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about 2 years ago | (#41784453)

This is more likely to have been caused by price fixing. I dont imagine there would more than 2-3 hearing manufactures. It seems they have decided to maintain the status quo, than compete.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784491)

Actually, it's because of government sponsored healthcare. The type that is wholly a for-profit enterprise, such as Lasik, consistently gets cheaper. When the government gets involved, the prices go up.

two words, no hyphens (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784583)

Regulatory capture

Re:three words, one hyphen: (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784607)

No, it isn't "for profit" per se that causes the high prices. It begins with the way consumers perceive their insurance plan. They see the insurance payment as a sunk cost, and don't really want to spend any less than the maximum that the company will pay. In addition, most people are willing to pay extra out of their own pocket to get better equipment, so the hearing aid companies set their prices to encourage that. The medical device designation is a significant barrier to entry, and so minimizes competition. These factors combine to set the price.

Re:three words, one hyphen: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784637)

one word: insurance

Re:three words, one hyphen: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784699)


People will pay for 'perceptions' dearly. That is why Dentists, Plastic cosmetic surgery, and living in hot inner city condos has a premium and has gone UP.

But a hearing aid is a product, and electronics, a bit of transformed plastic, and should have gone way down. Same for 'Hair-Fusion' shops that want $3000 for a wig and some glue (but if you go in, they will never use the word 'wig' or 'hairpiece' - not never).

But the hearing aid people have leveraged the same BS as all those glass/spectacle/ eye wear shops. And they have kept the price off Ebay/Amazon as well as side by side reviews.(oh everyone has to be customized- yah yah).

Hearing slightly different. Some will pay to keep or get a job (#1 priority in this economy). Come to an interview with a disability...
no income - scare tactics. baby boomers have stacks of cash and demand 'yes's'.

Hearing shops, like Hairpiece, hair removal and laser dermo shops have invested HARD in delivering great customer service, with a good smear of lies and B/S to get that wallet to open up.

The price of hearing aids is dropping, now that some are out there with Bluetooth like DIY no tools filter/tuning on your own PC. But they COULD add a few more directional microphones and prevent 'commoditization' for many years yet.

I'll spoil someones patent idea, that a garden variety mobile phone with a 1.5Ghz processor and probably just existing hardware, and software making use of the vector graphics components should be able to blow away the best hearing aids now. Hearing aid app.. $1.99 done!

Simple (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784111)

Economics of scale. Semiconductor industry sells a lot of chips. Hearing aid manufacturers don't sell that many hearing aids.

Re:Simple (3, Interesting)

SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) | about 2 years ago | (#41784217)

As a sound engineer I find a lot of hearing aids have had major features removed. I'm always getting more and more people who have aids that have no induction loop ("T") setting. Some now come with bluetooth, good for your mobile phone but not easy to pair to a PA system, kiosk or POS.

Re:Simple (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784413)

ears don't come with an induction loop either, maybe they believe their processing is good enough to do with out it

Re:Simple (1)

Americano (920576) | about 2 years ago | (#41784515)

And, hearing aids (at least, these expensive ones) are custom-fitted to the user's ear, and custom configured to enhance the specific frequencies of hearing loss the user has.

If your Android phone had to go through all of the quality & safety checks a "medical device" goes through, and required the assistance of an audiologist to custom-shape it to your hand & ear, and then test you & configure the device so that it enhanced the specific sound frequencies that you needed... they'd cost a lot more than "$99 with a 2 year contract," too.

custom fitting costs roughly $100 (1)

Chirs (87576) | about 2 years ago | (#41784627)

Testing and configuring can be done in an automated way using the marvellous capabilities of computing devices.

I can buy a home theater receiver for $350 that will automatically EQ my room and apply fancy filtering. There's no way it costs thousands to do the same in a hearing aid.

Because it's a medical device. (5, Insightful)

josiahgould (2401420) | about 2 years ago | (#41784121)

Regulations, testing, etc, will all drive the price of the unit up. But in the end it's because the manufacturers have figured out what the highest price an average insurance company will pay, and put it right at that point.

Re:Because it's a medical device. (2, Insightful)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | about 2 years ago | (#41784167)

This right here.

Put the word 'medical' in front of anything and you add a zero or two to its price tag.

Not necessarily (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784307)

I was just wondering about this price issue last week. I do a lot of competitive pistol shooting, so hearing protection is mandatory. The most common setup is earmuffs with amplifiers built in (so you can talk to people but still be safe because they don't amplify to dangerous levels). The ultimate setup is in-ear protection, just like a hearing aid (less hot and bulky, just more pleasant to wear, opens up other hat options besides a ballcap). But they're ( several thousand dollars so only the pros use them. This is not medical grade equipment, and sold as something like an "assisted listening device" so it doesn't fall under those regulations.

Miniaturization doesn't cost *that* much. I can't figure out why these are so expensive, other than they're probably bought from hearing aid manufacturers who fix the prices. I hope someone else starts manufacturing the key components soon.

Re:Not necessarily (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#41784505)

You're paying for the audiologist too and the ability to keep going back to have them adjusted, cleaned, etc at no extra charge as well as someone to advise you. I also get manufacturer repairs done at a reduced rate (about 60% of what I would pay otherwise) through the audiologist. If you buy hearing aids from the manufacturer, they tend to be about 1/4 to 1/3 the price. Is it worth it? To some people, yes. But for most people - especially the younger generations - not as much.

Source: I've had hearing aids for 19 years

Re:Not necessarily (2)

Americano (920576) | about 2 years ago | (#41784621)

Miniaturization + selling into a fairly limited-size market CAN cost that much.

R&D costs to design the device are fairly fixed - whether or not you build 1 device, or a million devices, you still need to figure out how to fit the features you want into a unit of the appropriate size.

ASHA reports that an estimated 31.5 million people in the US [] have hearing loss of any kind. Of that, approximately 12.5 million people own hearing aids, and 11.1 million wear them regularly.

Compare that with the numbers of smart phones in circulation, then factor in that these are medical devices and thus require significantly stricter quality & safety controls and testing, and you might get a sense of why the per-unit share of R&D costs would be significantly higher in hearing aids than in smartphones.

Same applies for in-ear shooting protection: how many thousands or millions of these units do you think they sell each year, versus the size of the smartphone market? "in-ear hearing protection for sport shooting" is a pretty specific market niche. It's pretty regular for niche products to cost more - I'd be surprised if the people making the multi-thousand dollar sport shooting protection systems make and sell more than a few tens of thousands of them in a year.

Re:Because it's a medical device. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784603)

BINGO! You are 100% CORRECT. I worked for a hospital installing equipment and such. A single PC that acted as a server that I could buy for $600 cost nearly $4,000 because it had to be certified and registered with the FDA because the information that was held on it was medical, and/or the software may do analysis of the data. Even changing out a hard drive or a memory chip had to come from the vendor at a high price. We couldn't fix our own servers because they were medical equipment.

clones? (5, Informative)

etash (1907284) | about 2 years ago | (#41784135)

I remember seeing at least a couple of exactly the same articles on slashdot the past years... [] []

has a slashdot staff a sensitivity towards the issue or something ?

Re:clones? (5, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | about 2 years ago | (#41784199)

Guess nobody heard the last time.

Re:clones? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41784279)

Their hearing aids were so expensive that they couldn't afford new glasses to read those articles.

Re:clones? (0)

Githaron (2462596) | about 2 years ago | (#41784305)

Guess nobody heard the last time.

I see what you did there.

Insurance pays. (2)

anubi (640541) | about 2 years ago | (#41784149)

If someone else is paying for it, who cares? Just about anything "covered by insurance" has skyrocketed pricewise.

Re:Insurance pays. (2)

green1 (322787) | about 2 years ago | (#41784275)

Because "someone else" doesn't pay for it. Insurance ALWAYS makes a profit. so that means that you are the one paying for it through premiums. People like you who don't care because they don't get the bill directly are the reason that insurance premiums are so high. The premiums have to cover all the costs and still make a profit, the more procedures/devices/etc cost, the more your premiums cost. But because nobody objects (because they don't think they pay for it) the companies get away with it.

You pay for it, only in a round about way.

Re:Insurance pays. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784407)

Exactly. People say the insurance company "negotiates" the lowest possible price, but ultimately their only competition is other insurance companies. If all insurance companies are paying the same price and charging the same premiums to cover that price, they don't care. In fact, if government regulations limit insurance company profits to XX% of the total cost, it is their benefit to for the price to increase (as long as it increases for all). So we have a customer who doesn't care because he is insulated from directly paying, we have an insurance company that doesn't (really) care because they recoup it in premiums. So who cares? The hearing aid makers?

I think the question is answered.

Re:Insurance pays. (1)

sjames (1099) | about 2 years ago | (#41784519)

That's the interesting part to me. The whole reason private insurance is supposed to be so much better than socialized medicine is that supposedly the insurance companies will apply strong downward pressure on costs using superior bargaining power driven by a profit motive.

It seems they fail miserably at this. Perhaps it's time to try a better approach.

Re:Insurance pays. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784649)

The bulk of non-retired America does not have truly private insurance. They get their insurance in group packages through their employer. The bureaucracy and resistance to change of the companies that run these group packages is nearly as bad as an arm of the government.

Re:Insurance pays. (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#41784537)

Surprisingly few insurances cover hearing aids. All of my jobs have had insurance that covers a hearing test, but they all explicitly state hearing aids are not covered.

WHAT? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784177)


Why would they? (1)

michael_rendier (2601249) | about 2 years ago | (#41784179)

Most hearing aids are prolly paid for with health care...and as long as heathcare charges $99 for a paper packet of Tylenol, and get's $4000 a month for my meds for HIV...why would they want to make a cheaper one?

From last time... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784181)

Wasn't the conclusion from last time that there are quite a few cheaper options around if you want some sort of generic device? The expensive devices are supposed to come with custom fitting to your ear and custom frequency response to match your hearing loss.

Re:From last time... (1)

guruevi (827432) | about 2 years ago | (#41784461)

But with the advances in 3d printing and a decent audio test setup you could drive this down quite a bit. Also, some hearing aids I've seen simply have the custom shape molded around an existing design.

Re:From last time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784615)

That would work right up until big phama shoved Uncle Sam's red, white, and blue dick up your ass.

Ripe for competition? (5, Interesting)

cgenman (325138) | about 2 years ago | (#41784185)

Why hasn't anyone kickstartered a competitor?

Re:Ripe for competition? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784425)


Can you think of any other possible reason?

Yes (1)

doginthewoods (668559) | about 2 years ago | (#41784693)

the CPU. The programming of the CPU. Writing the software to adjust the aids. the I/O devices. The interface. the cost of making the aid, especially if it is an ITE device, where the works have to be installed inside a custom made shell. Testing. Approval. Putting together a factory. I know a guy in NZ who has a great aid, but can't get it to market, because he doesn't have the cash to get it to market. It costs a lot.

Re:Ripe for competition? (1)

Nyder (754090) | about 2 years ago | (#41784501)

Why hasn't anyone kickstartered a competitor?

Kickstarting, the solution to everything.

Re:Ripe for competition? (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#41784565)

There are a number of competitors already out there. The problem is they don't come with the support of an audiologist, which is more than half the cost. The ability to keep going back for unlimited adjustments, professional cleanings, reduced repair rates, etc. It's not always worth it, but you are paying for a lot more than just the physical device.

What's with the pisspoor English? (0)

AbRASiON (589899) | about 2 years ago | (#41784187)

"Why Can't Industry Design an Affordable Hearing Aid?"

What industry? The tech industry, the medical industry? The hearing aid specific industry? This isn't the first time I've seen industry used in this manner, we can definitely assume whch industry in most cases but it doesn't mean it shouldn't be specified. This isn't correct use here and it sounds stupid.

I only whine because I suspect this isn't an accident but another one of those poor uses which people actually think is correct and it gets perpetuated out there, like this incredibly ridiculous and weird one. []

Re:What's with the pisspoor English? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784251)

And have you spotted the double "is" that seems to be on the rise? The problem is, is people don't know the difference between grammar and spelling.


Re:What's with the pisspoor English? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784485)

,,,and here I thought you were going to bring up the old "can't vs won't" discussions that obviously apply here.

Like others here have pointed out it is too similar to the "reasons" less then a penny's worth of chemicals is retail priced thousands of times more then the production costs when assembled for a prescription... Exact copies of the same medicines cost much less in many countries, especially where the US prices are greater then a month or even a year's salary there.

Re:What's with the pisspoor English? (2)

Sperbels (1008585) | about 2 years ago | (#41784703)

I don't understand. Are you saying this is bad grammar and that adding an adjective to industry will make it correct?

But they can (1)

garyoa1 (2067072) | about 2 years ago | (#41784197)

They can, just don't want to. Just like tablets, phones etc. could be a lot cheaper, they are selling now so why cut price?

Government Money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784205)

When you have third-party payer (especially if it is the government) prices go up unchecked. Audiologists make bank and I assume the people making the things make bank. Furthermore it is high-value to the consumer and so the producer is just taking a bite of the "surplus".

Try looking at this here . . . (4, Informative)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 2 years ago | (#41784207)

please, won't someone think of the audiologists? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784245)

Audiologists deserve to drive a Porsche too.

Same with eyeglasses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784297)

It's only recently that the price of eyeglasses has come down. Quite interesting how many different retail chains selling eyeglasses are actually owned by a single company. Obviously, none of those stores really compete with each other.

You're paying $2k for a hearing aid. Bwahahaha (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784319)

Shooters' earmuffs (3, Interesting)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 2 years ago | (#41784327)

nowadays hearing protectors for gun shooters have electronics built in. The earpieces go over the ears and damps out sound, as they've always done. However now there's microphones that pick up sound from the outside, and pipes them into speakers inside the earpiece. If the sound level outside exceed a threshold (such as a gun going off), it doesn't get piped into the speakers.

There's a volume knob, so if you crank that up you can hear much fainter sounds than your normal hearing. So you can use it like a hearing aid, sort of.

You can buy decent ones for $50 - $100.

But if government subsidies and medicare got involved, they'd probably cost $2000 also.

Re:Shooters' earmuffs (-1, Flamebait)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41784385)

What? let me know when they fit in the ear and are difficult to see.

Not even comparable. Just a stupid post you underline you ignorance about government subsidies and medicare.

Both of which have driven down health care costs.

It isn't just about insurance companies (3, Insightful)

Ronin Developer (67677) | about 2 years ago | (#41784331)

Today's digital hearing aids are actually very sophisticated devices. People with hearing loss don't need all frequencies (and noise) amplified. Typically, their loss is toward specifics frequencies. The new hearing aids are programable and can enhance the specific frequencies to compensate for the user's hearing losses.


Re:It isn't just about insurance companies (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784503)

that isn't sophisiticated in the least. It's called an equalizer and it's extraodinarily easy to implement.

they know what the market will bear and are charging every cent of it.

there's clearly no competition, the question everyone should be asking is, why not ?

Re:It isn't just about insurance companies (1)

M. Baranczak (726671) | about 2 years ago | (#41784533)

OK, so it's not just an amplifier, it also has a programmable equalizer. I still don't see how that adds up to $2000.

Re:It isn't just about insurance companies (2)

sjames (1099) | about 2 years ago | (#41784577)

The guy that designed the things doesn't buy that line.

Re:It isn't just about insurance companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784667)

> The new hearing aids are programmable and can enhance the specific frequencies to compensate for the user's hearing losses.

My android phone has an equalizer and does all that. You can buy a brand new TracPhone with that level of processing power right now in WalMart for about $80.

bluetooth (0)

sentientbeing (688713) | about 2 years ago | (#41784343)

"it isn't clear why it costs thousands of dollars while other electronic equipment like cellphones, computers and televisions have gotten cheaper."

So buy Bluetooth headset instead. Problem solved. You're welcome

Re:bluetooth (2)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41784395)

Thanks, but we want a solution that actual solves the problem.

Here's an idea - bluetooth (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784365)

Everyone has a bluetooth earpiece. So, two of those and an electronic box that goes in the pocket. It sounds like it could be built with an Arduino or something similar. There are enough deaf electronics experts to get this going as an open source project.

Twenty years ago, a bluetooth would have looked really weird. Now, everyone wears them. That makes them less conspicuous than an actual hearing aid.

Re:Here's an idea - bluetooth (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784571)

Everyone has a bluetooth earpiece. So, two of those and an electronic box that goes in the pocket. It sounds like it could be built with an Arduino or something similar. There are enough deaf electronics experts to get this going as an open source project.

Twenty years ago, a bluetooth would have looked really weird. Now, everyone wears them. That makes them less conspicuous than an actual hearing aid.

The thing is, bluetooth headsets don't go loud enough for me to hear.

That's the problem with hearing loss: if you could hear, you wouldn't need the device.

Hunting hack (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#41784369)

I hear* one can take hunting hearing aids and with a few modifications use them for regular hearing aids. These devices are intended to make it easier to hear and locate far-off game. I don't know how easy it is to adjust them for specific frequencies, though, if you have range-specific loss.

* No pun intended

Check prices in Europe (2)

rrohbeck (944847) | about 2 years ago | (#41784411)

500 to 2,000 Euro.

Because people are willing to pay. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784431)

If you were rendered deaf today, but were given the chance to hear, would you turn it down because it cost $2000 instead of $200? People value their hearing really highly, which should not be a surprise. Comments about insurance miss the point. If insurance ceased to exist, the only significant effect would be that some people would just stop being able to afford hearing aids. Anyone who can afford $2000 for anything will pay $2000 for a hearing aid.

As for competition lowering prices - no one actually wants to do that. Very few people or companies actually gets into a market with the sole goal of driving down prices; that's a strategy for some, but only if they think they can get more total profit in the long run. If most everyone who would use a hearing aid is already buying one at $2000, no company has incentive to lower that price, be they an established player or an upstart competitor.

Rational self interest. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784443)

That's why.

Good article (1)

kilodelta (843627) | about 2 years ago | (#41784451)

As someone whose hearing in the left is about 65dB down I know I'm going to have to do something eventually. But I kept getting put off by the cost. Thanks to this article I think I've found one I like for about $300. Not bad.

Again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784457)

Slow [] news [] day [] ..?

One word... (1)

anlprblite (592526) | about 2 years ago | (#41784477)

Medicare. This is what happens when other people pay the bills. And people want more of this? It is like any other government service. You charge as much as possible for the service as long as you stay within the government guidelines for price, you get to keep upping the price. If you actually let the market decide and not allowed a continuous government bailout of our healthcare system, read, medicare, then prices would get to a sane level. The greater good served by more people having affordable care would offset the number of those who could not afford it. I don't see why people don't understand how contracts and government programs work. We have a few examples, but hey, bread and circus, right?

For-profit system (4, Interesting)

bowens (2761189) | about 2 years ago | (#41784499)

My significant other is a speech pathologist and she went to school with a bunch of audiologists. While they were in school the audiology students were able to attend several lavish conferences, fully paid for (travel and hotel). Who paid for them? The hearing aid companies. They were given tickets to hockey games (yes this is Canada) and even jewelry. She asked her audiologist classmates if they felt it was a conflict of interest that they were accepting these gifts from the hearing aid companies. Most shrugged it off and said it wouldn't affect their opinions of the products. But how could it not? A few products then get recommended to patients, the companies can jack up the prices, and of course the audiologist will sell you the most expensive one because that is the one the companies are pushing as the best in the market. Review your hearing aid options online and take the audiologists word on a product with a grain of salt.

You can have 2: cheap, realtime, or resolution. (5, Insightful)

Miamicanes (730264) | about 2 years ago | (#41784513)

Hearing aids are unique among consumer electronic items, because they have almost zero tolerance for latency. If the media stream coming from your entertainment device is delayed by 12ms, you'll never notice the difference. If the sound coming out of your hearing aids is delayed by 12ms, your ability to locate items by sound and react to them is going to be completely borked. At best, you'll be stressed out and irritated. At worst, you'll feel disoriented and confused.

The problem is, all of the cheap ways to do digital signal processing add intolerable amounts of latency, so hearing aids are stuck with hybrid analog+digital designs that try to keep their filtering problems in the domian where they can be resolved the fastest. With digital designs, you can get away with sloppy designs that have corners cut and mostly get away with it if premature failure is OK as an option. With analog designs, every penny you shave off is going to have consequences, and those consequences add up quickly. Mixed-signal designs are the worst of both worlds -- you have to use premium-quality components and be aware of analog signal behavior every step of the way, then turn around and try to fix the noise and artifacts introduced by the digital part as well.

Yes, a hearing aid that simply amplifies sound through some cheap analog means, maybe with simple filtering, would be very cheap to make. However, for most users, that kind of hearing aid would be about as useful as a pair of drugstore reading glasses for somebody who has astigmatism. For profound hearing loss, making speech recognizable is about as hard as trying to fix botched laser surgery that's left somebody with higher-order optical aberrations that simply can't be fixed by a simple symmetric lens.

God/Nature/the Univrese has a cruel sense of humor, and here's an example that will make sense to people who had high-end car stereos at some point in the past. Remember what happened when you ran your stereo's line-level signal through a low-pass filter to separate out the bass channel? It flipped the phase, and made it lag. At the time, you probably dreamed of the day when you could use a DSP to implement an infinite-slope crossover that fixed both problems. Then, years later, you learned the cruel truth: in order to implement such a filter, you had to wait until you had a few thousand samples to analyze and work on... and the time you had to wait until you had a big enough window of samples to analyze ended up being almost exactly the same amount of time that the analog low-pass filter delayed the bass. The digital breakthrough is that if you don't have to do that analysis in realtime, and you have enough storage space to analyze the music offline, then re-sync everything up and store all the individual tracks separately, you can achieve the flawless perfection you always sought as a teenager with laggy bass. It's now cheap and easy to do, because you can take a whole CD, rip it to raw PCM, analyze it with your PC into separate 16-bit audio tracks for every single speaker element in your car, tweak their phase relationships to your heart's content, then write it all to a microSD card & have room to do the exact same thing to a few dozen more CDs.

The problem is, hearing aids don't have that luxury. They're one of the hardest-core realtime applications out there. You can't sample the sound, recursively process it, then go back and remix it at your leisure until it's *exactly* right, then play it over and over again thereafter. You have roughly half of a millisecond to do what you're going to do and send it to the transducer in the user's ear canal.

Of course, there's a big gray area of users whose hearing problems wouldn't be solved by cheap analog hearing aids, but like someone who's got a diopter of astigmatism and moderate far-sightedness, a pair of $12 reading glasses from the rack at the drug store would probably be better than nothing at all. But make no mistake... even if you could embrace the hacker/maker ethic, buy your own best-of-breed hearing aids at Amazon, tweak them yourself, and buy them with approximately the same markup as a laptop or unsubsidized android phone, they'd still cost about $2,500 apiece, because we're talking about hardware that's as bleeding-edge as the most sophisticated mobile phone money can buy, without the economies of scale the buyers of those phones can take advantage of. Hearing aid electronics are no more "built just for you" than the iPhone or Android phone in your pocket (the ear mold is another story), but they aren't getting cranked out by the millions for someone like Samsung, either.

One Word: Greed (0)

rueger (210566) | about 2 years ago | (#41784517)

Seriously folks, is there really anything else that bears discussion? It's about greed on the part of the companies that sell these things. Anything else you might hear are just excuses.

Other reasons??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784531)

Are they priced too high? Probably.

But take a look inside. The custom ICs, packaging technology, and the manufacturing techniques required to jam what is effectively a small computer into your ear makes cell phones look like stone-age technology. These guys measure board space in square millimeters - and if there is more than one or two empty mm^2, they try to trim it.

Add in all the regulatory compliance garbage, total volumes over a product lifetime that are probably less than a typical 2 week run of a cell phone and you have a pretty high cost per item that you need to overcome.

We could all say the same thing about... (2)

blahplusplus (757119) | about 2 years ago | (#41784597)

... expensive internet, and other industries where we get robbed like for instance SHOES and clothing. Do nikes really costs $100+ dollars to make?

DSP is the answer (1)

used2win32 (531824) | about 2 years ago | (#41784599)

I have been saying this for a while.

I think the manufacturers have a racket here. What we need is for a small startup to use some DSP technology and create a brand new low latency hearing aid system. They could customize the audio output for frequencies and percentages based on your hearing test.

The downside? It would probably be another patent mess. I am sure the existing manufacturers hold many patents on this and would hate for a competitor to come out with individually customized audio output, for each customer, for a couple hundred bucks (or a least less than a grand).

Hearing aids at Costco (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784631)

The article also pointed out that if you buy your aids at Costco (as I did) you save at least 50% over the cost of buying them from a private dispenser. I foudn the audioloigist at Costco just as good (if not better ) than my previous guy - and saved about $3,000 on my two aids (2k versus 5k). Both my aids are mad eby Siemans and seem to have all the whizbang technologies currently available

to break it down (1)

doginthewoods (668559) | about 2 years ago | (#41784645)

when you buy an aid from a dispenser or audiologist, about half of the cost of the aid is his or her's profit, plus the free follow up visits. So all costs of maintaining an office are passed on to the end user. An audi doesn't sell a bunch of hearing aids - it's not like selling TVs - it's a low volume market. Because the CPUs are pricy to produce, due to relatively low unit sales, many makers share the same CPU, to spread out the R&D and production costs. Some companies like Siemens, can make their own chips. And aids makers are always working on faster CPUs, so the headliner aids are pricy, because the company is trying to recover their production costs before progress creates the next even better CPU, rendering the one they have "old tech". SO a hearing aid company can take its old out of date CPUs and put them in second and third line aids, and charge less, but, as always, if you want the fastest and newest, you gotta pay for it. It's a big race between all the aid makers, all the time. to produce the best aid. Note that, just like all digital audio devices, the fastest CPUs make the best sound, because they have the horsepower to handle it. So an aid company can get maybe three years out of a CPu before it gets outdated. IIRC an aid in raw materials is about $250, then it has to be assembled inside a custom ear mold or BTE unit, and the labor and programming and testing the aid adds to the final out the door cost. And the usual costs of promo and advertising and paying the beta testers, etc. But the cost is still high. A person can go to Costco and buy aids for about half of what an audi wills eel it for, because Costco hires audis on a salary, not on commission, so they are not saddled with having to sell aids to keep the business open. About US$3000 will get you a nice pair of aids.

Hearing Aids Cost Money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41784653)

I thought they were free... oh wait, I live it Canada... my mistake

More than meets the ear (3, Insightful)

Alomex (148003) | about 2 years ago | (#41784663)

A hearing aid is basically just a microphone and amplifier in your ear so

This is like saying that a Ferrari is basically a VW bug on a race track so why is it so expensive? [yay car analogy!].

A good hearing aid has a microphone, speaker, battery and amplifier which are 1/50th the size of the one in your cellphone yet deliver much higher quality of sound all while filtering undesirable sounds.

Yes, in my opinion they are overpriced, but arguing that they are just a microphone and an amplifier is just ignorant.

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