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Subject:  The Hunt for an Affordable Hearing Aid Date:  10/23/2012  9:01 PM
Author:  tjscott0 Number:  650510 of 876382

I'm not yet in need of a hearing but the links in the article & Costco appear to offer alternatives for the thrifty.

the digital era has ushered in new technology: Manufacturers boasted of Bluetooth, multiple settings, “channels” and “bands,” which processed sound and fine-tuned it like a stereo’s equalizer.

Perhaps that was why the Hearx salesman bristled when I asked what I could get for $1,000. He likened the expensive model with 16 channels to listening to an orchestra — and the eight-channel model to a car stereo. He didn’t show me any other options. It was as if I’d gone into a car lot and had been presented with only Mercedeses, Porsches and Ferraris, when I wanted to see a Honda.

Why have hearing aids become more expensive, while 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 this.

The microphones, speakers and processing chips aren’t that expensive. “Those devices in small volumes cost $10 to $15,” Mr. Apfel said. He estimated that most hearing aids cost no more than $100 to make.

Indeed, less expensive hearing aids are available online. At, prices run from $399 to $599, a discount made possible by eliminating the middleman — the hearing aid dispenser. “Retailers/audiologists account for up to 70 percent of the final price of a hearing aid, because they factor in a bundle of additional expensive services,” the site states.

And all of those channels are mostly marketing. “For someone with mild to moderate hearing loss, the average hearing aid today is completely overengineered,” Mr. Freuler said. He cited studies showing that four or five channels improve speech intelligibility.

There is a downside to buying online: Hearing aids need to be mailed in for adjustments, an imperfect option.

When I told a friend about the sticker shock, she said, “Why don’t you check out Costco?”

The chain started selling hearing aids in 1993, and now has 438 hearing aid centers. At Costco, a basic in-the-ear shell hearing aid costs $500, with the most advanced behind-the-ear models going for $1,300.

And unlike the Internet retailers, Costco offers face-to-face service with hearing aid dispensers and audiologists for custom fittings.

Costco’s prices are less than half than the industry standard, despite the fact that its hearing aids are produced by the same major companies, including Rexton (a brand made by Siemens) and GN ReSound. Its in-house brand of aids, Kirkland Signature, is also built by Siemens. And unlike many private hearing aid dispensers, Costco employees don’t work on commission.

Sam Tanzer, a founder of an online store called Embrace Hearing (where prices run from $399 to $899), said that private retailers had to raise prices to cover fixed costs.

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