01 Sep Financial Assistance for Seniors Buying Hearing Aids
Hearing aids can be a significant expense, especially medical-grade devices purchased through an audiologist. However, the price tag shouldn’t deter you from seeking professional hearing care if you need it. Hearing aids undoubtedly improve everyday quality of life for those who struggle to hear, and studies have shown that wearing them can even improve brain function for those with hearing loss.
Additionally, there are some financial assistance options available for seniors that can make hearing aids more affordable. Below, we explain some of the most common sources of help paying for hearing aids.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers numerous health benefits through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). One of these benefits is audiology services, including diagnosis and treatment with a professional audiologist. VHA Audiology can prescribe modern hearing aids from some of the top manufacturers including Phonak, Starkey, and Signia. Some people may need to pay a copay for these services, but VHA care is free for those who meet income requirements.
Qualifying for VHA Assistance
Most veterans who served active duty qualify for VHA services and assistance. Veterans must have served for 24 continuous months or the full length of time for which they were called to service. Some exceptions exist, such as for those who were honorably discharged or served prior to September 1, 1980. You can learn more about eligibility for VA health care on the official VA website, and apply online or over the phone.
Medicare parts A and B, also known as Original Medicare, is the program that most people automatically qualify for upon turning 65. Unfortunately, Original Medicare does not cover any portion of hearing aids or hearing exams. However, most Medicare Advantage plans, which are purchased separately from Original Medicare through private insurers, offer additional benefits beyond what standard Medicare provides. Some Medicare Advantage plans include hearing care, which can include diagnostic services, working with an audiologist, and/or the cost of hearing aids themselves. If you currently use a hearing aid or need hearing care, be sure to specifically look for a plan with this coverage when choosing a Medicare Advantage plan.
Medicaid may provide some financial assistance for hearing aids, but it depends where you live. Because Medicaid is a joint program between federal and state governments, Medicaid benefits can vary depending on your state. Some services, like hospital care, are required by the federal government to be included in all states’ Medicaid programs. But since hearing care is not one of these required services, the conditions of coverage vary from state to state. Some states cover the cost of hearing aids in addition to diagnostic services, follow-up care, and more; in others, hearing aids and hearing care may not be covered at all. Look into your state’s Medicaid coverage of hearing aids to find out if this assistance is available for you.
National and State Resources for Free/Subsidized Hearing Aids
In addition to the financial assistance options described above, there are national, state, or local resources available to help people access affordable hearing aids. Below, we list some of the national resources for seniors who need help finding free or low-cost hearing aids. To find additional local or state resources in your area, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
How They Help
Help America Hear
This organization was founded in 2004 to help those with hearing and vision impairments. In 2019, they started focusing on helping low-income individuals afford hearing aids. You can apply to receive one of Help America Hear’s free hearing aids on the organization’s website.
Lions Club Affordable Hearing Aid Project (AHAP)
Lions Club International partners with audiologists for the AHAP, a program that provides individuals in need with high-quality, low-cost hearing aids. You can apply to receive one of these hearing aids via mail with an application form, or ask your audiologist if they currently work with Lions Club on the AHAP.
Miracle-Ear is a hearing aid retailer that operates a foundation to help people in need access hearing aids. For each hearing aid Miracle-Ear sells through retail, it donates one through the Foundation. You can learn more about eligibility and apply on Miracle-Ear’s website.
National Hearing Aid Project
This resource was created by the Hearing Charities of America (HCOA) to help those who face economic barriers to accessing assistive hearing devices. You can apply to receive a hearing aid on the organization’s website. Note that in your application, you must include an audiogram/official diagnosis of hearing loss from an audiologist.
Starkey Hearing Foundation
Starkey is a hearing aid manufacturer that helps those in need access hearing care through its foundation. The foundation provides several services, including helping low-income individuals access hearing aids. You can contact Starkey Hearing Foundation via email if you or someone you know is in need of assistance.
What You Should Know About Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids and FDA-Approved Hearing Aids
With the rise of telehealth and online shopping, there are many companies from which you can now buy a hearing aid online rather than by visiting an audiologist. However, valid concerns have been raised by hearing care professionals that these direct-to-consumer hearing products can potentially harm wearers. If not programmed correctly by a specialist, there is a risk that the sound will amplify too much and be too loud, further damaging the wearer’s hearing and ears.
Still, that is not to say that all hearing aids you can buy online or over the counter are unsafe. It’s important to understand the difference between over-the-counter sound amplifiers, direct-to-consumer hearing aids, and FDA-approved hearing aids so you can make the most informed choice when choosing a device for yourself or a loved one.
The Difference Between Hearing Aids and OTC Hearing Amplifiers
First and foremost, it’s essential to know that there is no such thing as over-the-counter hearing aids currently being sold in the United States. The FDA has not yet approved any over-the-counter hearing aids for sale, which means any hearing device you can simply buy in a store without input from a specialist is not a hearing aid- it’s a personal sound amplifier product (PSAP).
PSAPs function differently than hearing aids and amplify all sounds rather than specific ones. They’re also not customizable and present a risk of over-amplification that can cause hearing damage and exacerbate existing hearing loss. PSAPs are not recommended for people with hearing loss; rather, they’re meant for someone without hearing loss to wear in certain situations when necessary.
The FDA is in the process of approving over-the-counter hearing aids. However, even once these are approved, we recommend still working with an audiologist when possible. Without professional input, you’ll still run a higher risk of exacerbating hearing problems or simply not using your devices to the maximum benefit.
Buying Hearing Aids Online
Most of the companies included on this page are direct-to-consumer brands, meaning that you can buy a hearing aid from them, usually online, without visiting an audiologists’ office. Many of them are FDA-registered, Class I medical devices. These FDA-registered hearing aids you can buy online are not PSAPs; they are proper hearing aids designed to help people diagnosed with hearing loss.
However, it’s important to note that FDA registration is not the same thing as FDA approval. Class I medical devices pose the lowest risk of harm to consumers and thus are not required to undergo the testing process necessary for FDA approval before reaching the market. Being FDA-registered simply means that the FDA knows that the product is being manufactured. On the other hand, FDA approval means that there has been sufficient testing of the product and it has been determined that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
Hearing aids sold directly to consumers online can certainly still be safe and effective as long as they are custom-programmed for wearers’ sound profiles, ideally by an audiologist. If you’re on a budget, buying a hearing aid online from a company that offers remote care and adjustments with an audiologist can be the best way to get a high-quality and safe hearing aid.
FDA-Approved Hearing Aids
Some hearing aids are defined as Class II medical devices, meaning that they pose a greater potential risk to wearers and thus must be FDA-approved to be on the market. Hearing aids that are class II medical devices include bone-conduction hearing aids, which you should absolutely only wear if prescribed, implanted, and programmed by an audiologist, otolaryngologist, or another skilled medical professional. If you ever see this type of hearing aid available for sale direct-to-consumer, it’s either false advertising of the product or the company is violating FDA regulations.
If you’re living with impaired hearing and have yet to visit a hearing specialist for testing and hearing aid recommendations, you can find an audiologist near you through the American Academy of Audiology.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Right Hearing Aid
Step 1: Get a Hearing Test
Traditionally, your first step on the path to a hearing aid purchase should always be to see a licensed hearing specialist. However, in-person testing is not always possible, especially right now during COVID-19. Just like many people are turning to telehealth appointments, you can also take a free online hearing test instead of visiting an audiologist in-person.
Online hearing tests can play a valuable role in determining your need for a hearing aid, but you won’t get as precise information as you would from a hearing test with an audiologist. If you do undergo a hearing test using an audiogram, the audiologist can provide highly detailed reports of what types of sounds, pitches, ranges, etc. that you most struggle with. This information will make finding the best hearing aid for you a more exact process and can give you a more specific price range.
Audiologists can also make recommendations for hearing aid brands, models, and fit styles. Keep in mind that audiology practices may have a few brands that they sell or endorse in particular, but once you have the opportunity, don’t be afraid to ask about the brands or devices that interest you personally.
Step 2: Think Beyond Hearing Aid Cost
After your audiologist provides a deeper look into your hearing loss profile, it may be tempting to keep things simple by shopping based only on cost and your audiogram results. However, you will also need to consider the kinds of activities wherein you’ll be relying on your hearing aids. Think about what types of sound environments you frequent most often.
The cost of hearing aids varies based in part on how well they can filter out peripheral noise. If you don’t often find yourself in noisy restaurants or music venues, you may wish to purchase a low-cost model that is best suited to calm, quiet environments, such as peaceful one-on-one conversations or TV watching at home. While you’re at it, also consider whether you would benefit from Bluetooth connectivity that could stream sound directly from a television or radio to your hearing aids. Another thing to look out for is a free trial period, which can be especially useful when buying hearing aids online.
Step 3: Determine What Accessories You May Need
Most companies sell accessories like remotes and streamers that can make programming and using your aids more convenient. However, buying accessories for various purposes can easily make your hearing aid far more expensive. For that reason, it’s best to start the shopping process by considering your specific accessory needs. The following are some of the most common accessories offered by hearing aid brands.
Many of the devices covered here feature Made for iPhone functionality, so Apple device users often spend less on accessories as these devices stream directly to Apple devices. However, if your phone runs on OS (Android) and you’d like the freedom to connect to other devices, such as your TV or car stereo, most brands will most likely require you to purchase a separately sold accessory. Bluetooth streamers can connect a hearing aid either wirelessly or with the use of a wired adapter to a broad range of external devices, and users will no longer need to excessively crank the volume of their TV or radio. Bluetooth streamers and adapters can cost hundreds, but they can make the balance of sound in your listening environment more level and clear.
It’s common for brands to offer physical remotes in a variety of styles, so if you’re not confident using a cell phone app for sound programming and other functions, or if you just want a backup remote, a physical remote control is a smart purchase. Not all hearing aids come with physical buttons to change the volume or the sound program which adapts your aids to different sound environments, so with some models, physical remotes are even more important.
For conversations in noisy areas or where the speaker and listener are at a distance from one another, an external microphone can be extremely handy. These come in multiple configurations, including as a mic that clips onto the speaker’s shirt, a table-top model or a small device that can be easily held and passed around during multi-party conversations. Mics are ideal in classroom environments too as some can accommodate group conversations at distances of up to about 60 feet.
Step 4: Try a Variety of Styles
Your audiologist can help you find the most comfortable and appropriate fit style for you, whether you’re more comfortable with a device that sits mostly behind your ear or a more discreet option that sits fully within your ear canal. The look of a hearing aid is important to most people, but the feel of the device is also highly important as hearing aids are meant to be worn long-term.
The most commonly found hearing aid fit styles are BTE (behind-the-ear), RIC (receiver-in-canal), and CIC (completely-in-canal). Some of the brands listed above also offer a custom-molded earpiece for which audiologists must fit the individual customer. If you find that most of the fit styles you try seem uncomfortable, consider a custom fitting.
Step 5: Anticipate Additional Costs
When you buy hearing aids, there are often additional costs beyond the initial purchase. And, anticipating the total cost involved in purchasing hearing aids can be tricky. Costs are dependent on needed accessories, warranty coverage, added fees, and brand-specific incidentals. When you’ve narrowed your search down to a few select brands, research the provider’s website or ask an audiologist about the following cost-related concerns.
- Is there a money-back guarantee during a risk-free trial period?
- Does the warranty cover lost, stolen or damaged devices?
- How much do replacement batteries or earpieces cost?
- Are fittings and/or servicing for adjustments included in the purchase price?
- How much do accessories for Bluetooth streaming cost?
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How much do hearing aids cost?
A: Hearing aids cost an average of approximately $2,500 in the United States. Many of the hearing aids listed on our list cost less because they’re from online brands. Hearing aids purchased through an Audiologists’ office are typically more expensive, but you’ll get personal attention from a hearing expert, which can be invaluable for some people. In other cases, it makes sense to buy a more affordable hearing aid online.
Q: What does it mean when hearing aids are “locked”?
A: Many hearing aid brands come from the manufacturer ‘locked’, meaning they can only be serviced and adjusted by proprietary dealer locations. Brands like Miracle-Ear, Audibel, and Beltone can only be adjusted in stores that bear that brand’s name over the front door. Often, these brands are also ‘vanity brands’, which means that they are made and/or designed by a company that specializes in manufacturing generic hearing aids for various unaffiliated brands. For hearing aid users who may travel or otherwise find themselves out of range of their device manufacturer’s audiology locations, owning a locked hearing aid can be more trouble than it’s worth.
Q: How much should I pay for a hearing aid?
A: Hearing aids can range in cost by hundreds, or sometimes, thousands, of dollars, and how much you pay for a hearing aid depends on your level of hearing loss and your lifestyle. More advanced features like smartphone connectivity and direct Bluetooth streaming raise the price, but if those aren’t important to you, you’ll likely save hundreds of dollars. Additionally, more severe hearing loss typically requires more advanced devices and the care of an audiologist, while mild hearing loss can sometimes be rectified with a basic hearing aid ordered online.
Q: Why are directional microphones important?
A: Directional microphones shift their focus toward the direction from which they process the most sound, making voices clearer and reducing unwanted background noise. They rely on software that tells a hearing aid where the closest speaker to the aided listener is located. Lower-cost digital hearing aids may not provide directionality. This significantly reduces a hearing aid’s ability to reduce noise and amplify the right sounds.
Q: What do hearing aids do?
A: Hearing aids process sounds to amplify them or otherwise make the sounds easier to hear for someone with hearing loss. Hearing aids work by picking up sound with a microphone, processes the sound according to the hearing aid’s specific pre-programmed settings, and then sends the sound to a speaker located in or near the wearer’s ear canal.
Q: Why are hearing aids so expensive?
A: Hearing aids can be expensive because of high-grade materials, performance upgrades and advanced features, and due to some hearing aids’ status as a medical device. The cost of hearing aids can vary significantly, with some of the most affordable over-the-counter hearing aids costing under $800 per pair.
Q: Are hearing aids tax deductible?
A: Hearing aids are sometimes tax-deductible when claimed as a medical expense. To deduct the cost of hearing aids from your taxable income, you must itemize the expenses on form Schedule A (Form 1040). Note that only certain hearing aid expenses are tax-deductible, and only in certain circumstances. The medical expenses you incurred over the year must total over 7.5% of your adjusted gross income to claim medical expenses on your taxes.
Q: How to insert and remove hearing aids?
A: To insert your hearing aids, you should identify the left-ear and right-ear devices, do a quick check to ensure the devices are clean, turn the hearing aids on, and place the device in the ear canal or behind-the-ear, depending on the type of device. To remove your hearing aids, gently pull on the outermost portion of the device and slowly pull it away from your ear and back into the case.
Q: Can a hearing aid stop tinnitus?
A: Hearing aids cannot cure tinnitus, but they can lessen the severity of symptoms and even stop the symptoms in some cases. Tinnitus is partially caused by the brain trying to overcome one’s hearing loss when processing sound. So, when wearing a hearing aid and the brain is more easily able to process sounds, many people with hearing loss experience relief from tinnitus.
Q: How long do hearing aids last?
A: Hearing aids last several years, typically between 3-7 years, though for some people they last even longer. Be aware that hearing aid batteries last just 3-14 days before needing to be replaced, but replacing hearing aid batteries is a simple and inexpensive process.
Q: Can people who have profound hearing loss use hearing aids?
A: Yes, people who have profound hearing loss can use hearing aids (but will need to work with an audiologist) and may also be good candidates for cochlear implants. Additionally, those who have single-sided deafness can use CROS and BiCROS hearing aids. These devices receive sound through one hearing aid but process that sound to manufacture the sensation of hearing in both ears. Sound signals are then sent to the unaidable ear where a specialized hearing aid is worn. Read more about how CROS and BiCROS hearing aids work in this article from Starkey.