First Time Purchasing HAs, this industry is ripe for change

#1

Hi there,

I’m in in the process of purchasing hearing aids for the first time, and I’m shocked by the experience. I’m getting ready to spend $4-6K on a item (which I consider to be a major purchase), and they will be covered one time only by my insurance company. I want to be careful about my choices. Here are my experiences. Have you had similar experiences? Is there a better approach? Let me know your thoughts.

The expectation is that I’m supposed spend 15 minutes with the Audiologist, and blindly go with their recommendation, who will place an order for my items. They will recommend one or two brands, even though they have never seen or used the latest devices from other brands. I will buy the very best HA I can buy, they will love the commission. That’s how it works in the industry today.

I work in technology, I’m on the conference calls most of the day, using Skype or Zoom. My experience with HAs will not be limited to face to face conversions in a quiet location. I connect with technology, I’m active, etc.

I started this in January, then I stopped because I so uncomfortable with getting ripped off. I don’t mind paying top dollar for top of the line service and products, but I don’t like getting ripped off. It’s April now, and I have to get this completed, I’m tired of saying “what?”,.“can you repeat that?”, hopefully I’ll complete the purchase this week.

Here are my gripes from my shopping experience:

  • Most people in the industry do not understand connectivity to devices. People selling the devices should be able to answer questions like: should I connect my hearing aids directly to my PC, or should I use a device that connects to my HA and my PC (that clips on my shirt), or should I use my existing headset over my hearing aids? These are basic questions for anyone who works in an office environment in 2019.
  • How long will my batteries last if I’m on 6 hours of conference calls in a day and connected directly to my PC?
  • Hey, you can’t answer my question about using HAs with my computer for conference calls, how about if I come down to your retail location, bring my laptop, and we can try out a couple of devices with it? “Oh, sorry, we don’t have any HAs in stock, you can’t really try them.” What?? Imagine going to the car dealer and saying, I’ve narrowed my search down to 2 models, they both meet my needs in terms of the specs, so it just comes down to which one feels more comfortable to drive, I’ll stop by for a test drive. What if they responded with “I’m sorry we have any inventory, but we can order one for you. If you don’t like it you can return it with a restocking fee.” Would you shop there?
  • The first place I went, I made sure that I was seen by an Ear Nose and Throat specialist, who did not have a financial interest in saying that I needed HAs. Without a question, he determined that I do need them, and have needed them for years. Then I was sent to the Audiologist who did have a financial interest. After my test, he showed me few old HA samples that he had laying around, and a laminated sheet showing different options, ranging from $4-6K, with a limited number of brands. Very unprofessional.
  • After going to the first place, I went to another local Audiologist. This place was a bit better. They understood a bit about technology. But again, nothing in stock, you can’t try it until you buy it. They were $2K less expensive than the other location for identical HAs. They also suggested that I submit a disability claim with the VA, which I did. I’m in the process of waiting for results, and I have to say the experience working with the VA so far has been great, they have been very professional.
  • Unfortunately that Audiologist is not approved by my insurance, and the place that is, happens to be the place that wants to charge me $6k. I told the insurance company that I could save them $2K by going to the second place, and they didn’t care. In the future, I may be able to us a VA benefit to purchase from the second place I visited.
  • So it looks like I’ll be back to unprofessional HA dealer number 1 to get HAs. I’m going to tell him what I want, and have him order it (I don’t care if he doesn’t get a kickback from that brand, I’m going to tell him what brand to order). If I don’t like it, I’m going to return it, without feeling any guilt.
  • I think my biggest gripe is that none of the Audiologist I spoke with have used all the new devices. They will say don’t pay attention to online reviews. They represent a brand. They are not giving good advice. They give the impression that they can choose what to sell and they have your interest at heart. If I go to a BMW dealer, I know they only sell BMW, I expect them to be biased. When I go to the Audiologist, I expect them to be impartial.

What would l like to see?

  • Someone on staff needs to know about connectivity, how HAs work with all kinds of devices, phones, laptops, in car bluetooth phone connectivity, etc. It’s 2019, we are surrounded by these devices, we need to know how a HA is going to interact.
  • Have some samples set up that customers can try. You can go into a Bose store and try out “Hearphones”. I’ve done it. You will leave the store knowing whether you liked it or not.
  • Quit with the “we have to evaluate you, bla, bla, bla”. You are selling the exact same device as the company down the street. Tell me about your service, expertise the brands you carry and your prices. If I like that, I’ll come in and do the hearing test.
  • I’ve done most of my research now online, and directly with the manufactures. The manufacturers have responsive, and have answered my technical questions. Phonak had their QA team connect to Zoom, try things out, answer questions, even sent me screenshots. So at this point, I’d rather just order these online. Let me adjust them with the app, or include one appoint with an Audiologist to set them up. Often I prefer to do business with someone local. In this case I don’t, because they are not providing a better experience.

In 5 years I’ll probably be going through this process again. I hope to see a different market when time comes.

What have your experiences been?

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#2

My pet peeve is that manufacturers all use different sales fabricated terminology to describe the features of their HA’s. I suspect they do it to make it near impossible for the average senior citizen to compare one hearing aid to another. It makes you totally dependent on the dealer.

In any case I did my research and only went to a Costco hearing aid center. My experience while not perfect is pretty good. The best sound quality experience is with an iPhone, and my Costco Kirkland made for iPhone HA’s. They direct all incoming audio directly to the HA’s. Between the fitter setup and the iPhone you can get pretty good sound quality. There are probably other ways to do it, but that is what I have experience with. At home I use VOIP for a land line and with it use an app on my iPhone to access the VOIP without using an actual land line phone set. That works pretty well too.

Edit: On the battery issue, from the research I did and some personal experience using the steaming funtion on the HA’s does not increase battery drain much - perhaps 10%. You may want to find a HA that uses size 13 batteries as they have more capacity than the 312.

Hope that helps some…

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#3

My wife and I have a different experience than yours. We have known for some time that our hearing has been getting worse. We’ve been asked why we are blasting the TV so loud. We were always asking people to repeat themselves. We accused each other of mumbling and to speak up. We had all the classic hearing loss symptoms.

After a good bit of online research I settled on trusting Dr. Cliff Olson’s YouTube videos. Dr. Cliff is an Android phone user, as we are, and toward the end of last year he was very excited about the release of the Phonak Audeo Marvel that was, and still is, the only HA that directly connects with Android phones. He also published a review of his choice of the 5 best HA’s for 2019. The Marvel was his number one choice.

Since we are Android phone users, we decided that the Marvels were the only one we wanted. We also wanted a professional fitting, so we decided to go with an audiologist that is also a doctor of audiology. We decided on an ENT clinic that has an excellent reputation. The staff audiologist agreed with our decision to go with the Marvels.

Kate and I were both fitted with identical (except for color) top of the line Phonak Audeo Marvel M90-R rechargeable HA’s on Dec 26th and after 3 1/2 months we have both been satisfied that, for us, we made the right choice.

I should add that I’m a retired Microsoft Software Engineer and connectivity is very important to me. With my Marvels, my streaming music subscription rivals the quality of my best quality headphones. I’m pleased to be able to listen to high quality streaming audio wherever I am. I have Phonak TV Connectors that connect directly with TV and my Windows 10 computer without having to go through a pairing process.

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#4

The feelings you express are pretty common on the forum. Just something to think about–if you went to the doctor and he told you needed a pacemaker, would you be researching best pacemaker brands and features, or would you go with his best judgement. It’s not a perfect parallel, but I think it describes the struggle we have between a professional model and a tech model.

If connectivity is a big priority, you might want to consider Resound Quattros and perhaps switching to an iPhone if you don’t already have one. Phonak Marvels work well with Android, but if you’re switching between multiple devices during the day, some on the forum have found multiple unpairings and pairings a pain. If you’ll have a decision from the VA soon and if approved, it seems like you don’t need to worry about a provider. Lastly, you need more than an app to fully adjust hearing aids. Resound has the best app and will let you have the most conrol with an app, but for full control you’ll need to check out the DIY section. You’ll need specialized software and a programming device.

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#5

The VA will provide top of the line HAs and consumable supplies (batteries, wax filters and domes or molds) to any honorably discharged veteran who has a hearing deficiency, without respect to the cause of the hearing deficiency, and without charge to the veteran. You will only need a copy of your DD-214.

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#6

Thanks @TraderGary for the info. My research has also led me to the Phonak Audeo Marvel, that is what I plan to purchase. I have seen some of Dr. Cliff Olson’s videos, and I’ll look at a few more. Good to know that the TV connector is something to consider.

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#7

Thanks @MDB. I’m currently using an Android. I used Apple for years, switch to Android a couple of years ago and prefer Android at this point. That is one thing that is making me lean towards the Phonak over Resound. It will be interesting to see what happens with pairing and unpairing. I can see how that could become problematic.

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#8

I have had a similar experience. The hearing aid provider was able to do little more than use the factory presets. was not able to help me synch the aids to my other devices, tell me how to use the aids with an office phone;, get rid of the feedback…etc…ad nasum… it was a very frustrating experience. I had to use the vendor my health insurance sent me to. … I think the field is too complex for many people to do much more than specialize in one brand. I chose the brand my vendor did not specialize in. resound Quattro’s because I already had the TV streamer and the microphone . I had the same experience with being not able to compare the two brands I was considering. You have to buy them, then send them back and pay a restocking fee. There seems to be no way to have both aids to test at the same time as to compare which works better or you.

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#9

Are you saying a vet doesn’t have to qualify for VA health care benefits to receive hearing aids?

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#10

(What have your experiences been?)

Similar. Quoted about $11k Can. for my wife and I, for medium level. (paying out of pocket) Given way high estimate of battery life. When that didn’t pan out during trial, they weren’t surprised and offered platitudes. Very quick fitting, no followup when returned. Zero confidence that they’re up on connectivity etc. During our short relationship with the audi, had been talking with a friend who was going through the same thing with a different outfit. Comparing notes it was obvious he was being quoted lower for better hardware. By the third visit we realized that if we stayed with them, we’d be paying the most for the least. Worse than the experience is knowing that if I want to find a good audi, I need to interview candidates extensively and treat them like an adversary. Hoping to find a good one eventually through word of mouth, but in the meantime going the DIY route for myself. Then I’ll be in better shape to shop for my wife later.

The business model of the HA industry isn’t unique. I’ve worked in a high-markup service industry that had a lot in common, such as quoting only total price because the breakdown between parts and labor would be too revealing of the profit, and make it easier for the customer to compare. The HA industry also has something in common with car dealers in that the price the customer pays is proportional to their knowledge and willingness to speak up and shop around. In both cases the vendors will stick to their business model as long as the majority of customers keep accepting it.

Looking forward to the day when competitive prices will be listed on the wall or in a handout, and services will be offered unbundled. Just kidding, I know I won’t live that long. :slight_smile:

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#11

The Vet does have to qualify for VA Health Care (hence the DD-214 with Honorable) but does not have to qualify for a disability rating and service connection for hearing loss is not necessary.

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#12

@edkoc My understanding are there are 2 ways to get hearing aids covered for a Vet. One is “needs based” and the other is through a disability claim. I think all Vets with an honorable discharge qualify for “needs based”, but that means that the VA will look at your income level {and maybe assets} to determine if you qualify. If they determine that you have the means to cover the costs yourself, they will not cover it.

If you file for disability, then the damage had to occur during your time in active duty in order to get approved. If the claim is approved then the VA would cover medical costs, including HAs for the rest of your life, and it would have nothing to do with your current income level. That is what I filed for, mine started when I was in active duty, and I’m waiting to find out the results of my claim.

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#13

Similar feelings but in addition the majority if us have NO coverage. I am wearing the new patio and landscaping we had saved for on my ears

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#14

Hearing Aids and Eye Glasses are dispensed on a “needs basis” to all Vets enrolled in VHA. When you enroll in VHA, the VA will look at your income level (and other factors, but not your assets) when they determine your Priority Group for Copay purposes. I do not believe that hearing aids and glasses are subject to copays.

You are correct in that a disability compensation claim must be connected to your active duty service, but this has nothing to do with hearing aids and glasses.

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#15

In my case I qualified due to income level. My brother did the same. He was told 50 for the exam and 50 copay. I was told the same but have not received a bill yet. Received my Oticon opn1’s early March.

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#16

Why pay that much. I purchased my current hearing aids, Kirkland Signature 6 from Costco for $1,800 for the pair and they have been great. If I upgrade it will be with Costco also. I can go to any Costco just about and get service The cost is half what everyone else charges and they are quality products.

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#17

The VA person who did may assessment, and is filing the claim for me, told me that if the disability claim is approved, it will cover HAs. It’s possible to get monthly compensation, but the claim can be approved with $0 monthly compensation, and HAs would still be covered. Only if the claim was completely rejected would HAs not be covered. I know people that are covered for HAs using this method. HAs are definitely covered under a disability claim, and are independent of needs basis.

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#18

I started out with 0 monthly disability but when my hearing loss reached the serve rating I now receive 20% disability for tinnitus and my hearing loss. I am happy with just getting my aids and needed extras and supplies. The little I get in disability does help with my medical insurance

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#19

You are soooooo right about the industry being ripe for change. I am locked into HearUSA by my insurance and can’t complain too much as the coverage is excellent. But I feel my insurance is being ripped off by the crazy pricing, much of which is allegedly for the service provided rather than the instruments themselves. As more people become aware that the technology itself is not much more complicated than, say, that in Apple AirPods, questions regarding their expense will multiply. The typical user may visit the audiologist 1-2 times a year over 3 years for the extra $3000 paid…that’s a pretty pricey cost per visit.
If I were paying out of pocket, I would thoroughly research the various brands, and choose one that allows true self programming (with the appropriate hardware and software). It isn’t worth the hassle to me to try to perfect my experience with repeated trips to the audiologist.
Having said all that, I am very happy with my hearing aids. They aren’t perfect, but they improve my life significantly. I love my work and am still at it at age 70, but it depends on being able to hear and understand speech, which I could not do adequately without the aids.

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#20

You will read a lot on the forum about Marvel connectivity “problems”. For the most part, what you read is true. The Marvels are programmed to keep the Android Bluetooth connection. If the connection should drop, the connection is immediately established again. If you choose the option on your phone to “disconnect”, it will reconnect again in a few seconds. The only way to disconnect the Bluetooth connection is to un-pair. That’s what makes multiple connections a pain-in-the-butt. As long as you know what to do, changing Bluetooth connections between different devices can certainly be done, it just requires time consuming extra steps.

I decided to simply buy an extra Phonak TV Connector (that doesn’t use the Bluetooth protocol) for my Windows 10 PC. That way the PC connection is “always ON” and changing between my Android Phone and my Windows 10 PC is simple, quick and easy.

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