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Why Purchasing a Hearing Aid is a Consumer Nightmare

Brad whitneyb at erols.com
Sun Sep 21 21:30:16 EST 1997

Why Purchasing a Hearing Aid is a Consumer Nightmare

The way hearing aids are marketed in the US makes it very difficult 
for a consumer to become sufficiently informed to make an educated 
decision and is therefore totally at the discretion (some might say
 mercy) of the hearing aid dispenser.

For the last several weeks I have been going through the process of 
trying to decide if I should purchase an aid and as part of the process 
I have been following this newsgroup and even participated on two occasions.
I have seen ample evidence some of the participants of this newsgroup need to 
understand this process from the consumer's point of view, especially given 
the flaming I received for the sin of documenting some hearing aid prices.


The Problem:

With the availability of hearing instruments such as the Widex Senso 
consumers are being asked to pay thousands of dollars for a new, 
relatively unproven, product.  These aids are usually recommended by an 
audiologist or dispenser we usually picked out of the phone book and/or 
we seldom see, with little or no way of checking into the aids reputation, 
the dealers reputation, or determining if the price is fair.  Additionally, 
we consumers have no way to validate if the recommended aid is the best 
technical solution, or maybe just the highest priced one.  We are asked to 
totally trust the audiologist or dispenser we may have just met, or have not 
seen in a few years.  This mix of circumstances is an invitation for less 
conscience dealer to take great advantage of consumers.

This problem has existed all along but hearing aid products such as the 
Widex Senso have dramatically increased the dollars of the expenditure 
to the point it could tempt anyone to "get a little extra premium" for 
an aid of this class.  The Senso, in CIC form, is so much more expensive 
than other aids a consumer must naturally be cautious.  For example, this 
aid is 30% more expensive than the top of the line CICs from either of the 
advertising and high overhead kings Beltone or Miracle Ear.
Except for www.ahearingaid.com I have been unable to find any published 
hearing aid pricing whatsoever.  Readily available consumer pricing goes 
a long way towards helping a consumer feel assured he or she is not becoming 
the target of a greedy dealer.  Compounding this problem, I have found 
some dealers will not quote the price of their aids over the phone. Without 
fail, if a dealer doesn't sell the aid you are inquiring about, they ALWAYS 
tell you they have something just as good or better, and during the sales 
effort, they will usually contradict other dealers recommendations (one says 
CIC another says no CIC, one says K-Amp another says definitely not a K-Amp, 

It is very difficult for a consumer to develop any trust in a marketplace 
with so many impediments to normal consumer tools such as priced 
product reviews, etc.  With products now this expensive the consumer needs 
some assurance his or her decisions are sound, as the money spent will impact 
the entire family budget for many, many months.

With the Internet, international information flows freely and we see dramatic 
price disparities between countries, compounding consumer unrest.  While the 
differences in health care systems may effect the margins of the dispensers, 
what is in question is the wholesale price disparity.  I have designed one 
medical device and was exposed to the marketing aspect of health devices.  
Many people blame the FDA for additional US costs but the truth is the US 
market the worlds cash cow for medical devices because of our capitalist 
health care system.

The old basis of pricing an aid based on a margin over cost gets very visible
as the price of the aid increases.  One dispenser told me he loves to sell the 
Widex Senso because they are actually easier for him to program than other 
more conventional aids.  He actually spends less time with Senso customers but 
charges them more.

With no published pricing, dealers that refuse to quote prices over the phone, 
and the sensitivity exhibited by some dealers if prices are questioned, a 
must be very skeptical and exercise extreme caution when purchasing a hearing 
Dispensers, you must expect this very old debate to heat up significantly as 
hearing aid prices escalate at these precipitous rates.

Knowledgeable consumers are not looking for the lowest price, only a fair one.


A simple consumer

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