Recently, we posted a blog entry explaining why some commonly cited reasons not to buy hearing aids online, despite much lower hearing aid prices, do not apply to Embrace Hearing.

This is the second of a two-part post focusing specifically on the last reason proposed by Neil J DiSarno in his recent March 6 Q&A piece in The New York Times.

Mr. DiSarno states that: Audiologists are professionals who can provide adjustment and programming of the devices, counseling, hearing training and support when you obtain hearing aids from them. Hearing aids bought online do not include these services.

We completely agree with this statement, but we also believe that the model of “bundling” hearing aids and follow-on services serves to obfuscate the true costs of hearing aids and hearing aid services, and allows audiologists to charge more for the services than they would be able to charge on an easier-to-understand visit-by-visit basis.

To demonstrate this point, we’ve calculated the effective price of hearing aid follow-on services.


 

Above and here is our analysis of the effective cost per visit of the “training and support” referenced by Mr. DiSarno, when purchased as part of a bundled package. This analysis assumes that an audiologist pays $1,000 for a set of hearing aids from a manufacturer, sells it to a consumer for $5,000, and that the “fair price” for that sale is really much lower. It then asks the question – how much is the customer really paying per follow-up visit, depending on 1) how often he returns for follow-up visits, and 2) what hearing aid price he considers “fair” in the first place?

At the risk of stating the obvious, we submit to you that these are very high numbers!

In our view it is unlikely that hearing aid wearers would be willing to pay per-visit prices at these levels, if given a transparent choice. Hearing aid “bundling” is so common because it allows audiologists to include these exorbitant hidden costs in the up-front $5,000+ hearing aid price. First-time hearing aid buyers may not know whether $5,000 is too much to pay for a medical device – but they would suspect that $1,000 is too much to pay for a follow-on visit.

While it is impossible to know Mr DiSarno’s true motivations, we note that he has “spent the last 35 years as a practicing audiologist” and therefore has likely benefited financially from profits created by the practice of hiding high per-visit costs in an opaque “bundle.” We leave it for our readers to decide whether this conflict of interest might influence the thinking of audiologists who advise consumers not to buy hearing aids online because doing so deprives consumers of the ability to obtain “adjustment and programming of the devices, counseling, hearing training and support” from audiologists.

To this argument, we say – if you really want to ensure that all consumers have access to these services, then why not charge for them on a per-visit basis, no matter where consumers originally purchased their devices?

In a more transparent system, the free-market price for these services would decline to the level that consumers feel is fair. In an environment with lower prices, it is highly likely that many of the 27 million Americans with untreated hearing loss would purchase hearing aids and achieve an improved quality of life. And shouldn't that be the goal of everyone involved in the hearing care industry?