By Meaghan Harmon
Hearing aids can dramatically improve the quality of life of older adults with hearing loss. In fact, approximately 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). If you’ve already made the decision to try hearing aids after speaking with your doctor or a hearing health professional, you may be wondering where to buy them.
When it comes to purchasing hearing aids, consumers have plenty of options. While hearing aids are typically bought from an audiologist or a hearing aid dispenser, the ultimate decision of where to buy your device(s) is based on several factors. Key factors include your budget, whether hearing aids are covered by your insurance plan, the type of hearing aid you want or need, and whether you’ll require frequent hearing checks, hearing aid servicing or visits with your audiologist.
Buying Hearing Aids from an Audiologist
When you purchase hearing aids from an audiologist (an extensively trained hearing health professional), the cost typically includes the retail price of the device(s), as well as a product warranty and specified number of follow-up visits to ensure the aids fit and function properly. During these visits, audiologists program and clean the device(s) and make any adjustments necessary. In addition to having access to a hearing professional while you get used to using hearing aids, another benefit of buying directly from an audiologist is that the cost also typically includes maintenance of the device(s) for a certain period of time at no additional cost.
Buying Hearing Aids From a Hearing Aid Dispenser
You can also purchase hearing aids from hearing aid dispensers, who are professionals licensed to perform audiometric (hearing) tests and sell and fit hearing aids. Familiar with all brands and styles of hearing aids, they can make recommendations based on your specific needs and preferences. When you purchase a hearing aid from a dispenser, the cost may or may not include follow-up services to check the fit and settings or clean the device.
Other Hearing Aid Buying Options
Big Box Stores and Wholesale Retailers
Some wholesale membership stores like Costco have on-site hearing centers that offer hearing tests performed by non-commissioned hearing professionals who can then make individualized hearing aid recommendations, and select hearing aids are available for purchase from the store. You must be a member of the wholesale retailer club to use these services, which often include free follow-up appointments, hearing aid cleanings and checks, loss or damage coverage outside of a deductible and warranties (which vary by product). If the store carries the hearing aid that best suits your needs, it can be a good buying option.
Walmart and other big box stores also offer Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-registered hearing aids at what may seem like value prices, but hearing aid purchases from these retailers don’t typically include any kind of follow-up care. Also, it’s important to note that Walmart also sells personal sound amplification systems (PSAPs), which are different from hearing aids and may add confusion to the shopping experience.
Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids
The FDA is in the process of regulating over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, which consumers will be able to buy directly from a retailer without first seeing an audiologist for a hearing exam or purchasing from a dispensary. Once available, these hearing aids will be intended for adults who believe they’re experiencing mild to moderate hearing loss, according to NIDCD. Some indications of which include:
- Sounds and speech seeming muffled
- Difficulty hearing when there’s background noise, such as in a crowded room
- Often needing to ask people to repeat what they say or speak more slowly
- Turning up music or television volume louder than other people
OTC hearing aids may be a more convenient and affordable option for purchasing hearing aids when they become available. Some brands in line to offer OTC hearing aids include Eargo and Lively.
How to Decide Where to Buy Your Hearing Aids
The following factors may determine where you choose to purchase your hearing aids:
Hearing aid prices run the gamut, with the average cost hovering around $2,000 for a single aid (some people experience hearing loss in only one ear and thus only need one device). Before buying a hearing aid, it’s important to weigh your budget against your device specifications—and to choose a hearing aid that meets your unique hearing needs and is affordable to you.
Unfortunately, most health insurance plans (including Medicare) don’t cover the cost of hearing evaluations or hearing aid devices. However, if you have Medicare Advantage (also referred to as Medicare Part C), a portion of your hearing care and device costs might be covered by your plan, so be sure to ask your provider for these details.
Type of Hearing Aid
The brand and type of hearing aid you choose factor into where you decide to buy it from, as stores like Costco or Walmart may not carry the brand and style you prefer. If you’re set on a specific brand or model, buying directly from an audiologist or hearing aid dispensary may be the best option.
Complexity of Hearing Loss
The degree of hearing loss you’re experiencing may impact your decision of where to purchase hearing aids. If you have severe or progressive hearing loss, purchasing from an audiologist, who can follow your progress closely and help ensure you have the best device for your needs, might be the best choice.
Speak with your doctor or a hearing health professional if you think you’re experiencing hearing loss, at which point a hearing test is the first step toward exploring your hearing aid options.