When many of my patients frequently ask, "Why are hearing aids so expensive?" I feel that I don't have a good answer for them. So why are hearing aids expensive?
When we look at the increase in hearing aid prices attributable to inflation from 1960 to 2005, we actually see that hearing aids are comparatively less expensive today than they were in the 1960s. The following graph, adapted from Doyle (2005), shows the trend of hearing aid prices over time. An analog BTE in the 1960s with a single frequency response, omni directional microphone, and a possible trim pot sold for $350 retail. The same hearing aid when adjusted for inflation would cost about $2,400 in 2005.
In 1985, a similar, more technologically advanced hearing aid (indicated by the white bar) was 1/3 the retail price of the 1960 device adjusted for inflation. Continuing on in 1995, programmable hearing aids, including all styles, cost less than the 1960 hearing aid as well. Lastly, the average price of a digital programmable device in 2005 is less expensive and more advanced than the 1960 HA adjusted for inflation. The bottom line is that the retail price of hearing aids today, which are move advanced than those of the past, are actually slightly less expensive than the rate at which inflation has increased.
We can also compare modern hearing aid prices to historical values. In the next graph, all hearing aid prices have been adjusted to constant dollars in the year 2000. The horizontal line, "Historical mean," represents the average retail cost of a hearing aid made with carbon, vacuum tubes, and transistor technology between 1905 and 1961; this value is $882. Shaded areas represent one standard deviation above and below the mean. Diamonds signify the average hearing aid price determined in a MarkeTrak VI survey. Despite the fact that hearing aid prices in 1999 and 2000 were higher than the historical mean, each diamond is still within one standard deviation of the mean. Again, what this boils down to is that there is no significant difference in price between modern and historical hearing aids.
Amyn M. Amlani, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor on the faculty of the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of North Texas. His research interests include hearing aid fitting and selection procedures, auditory perception in real-world environments, cognitive effects on hearing aid use and benefit, and economic and marketing trends within the hearing aid industry.