Hearing Aids – Bundled, Unbundled, Service Plans, Fee-For-Service…What does it all mean?
If you have been following the news lately, surely you have heard all about hearing aids- the new FDA class OTC (Over The Counter) hearing aids and prescription hearing aids. Even with all the buzz, many patients are still confused about the process of getting hearing care and hearing aids. One of the questions we hear often is why do hearing aids cost so much? One reason is that a substantial portion of that cost is the service related to your hearing aids, not just the devices themselves. Today we will be learning about the pricing models used to determine the costs of aids so you can be prepared.
In the past, the process of getting hearing aids was simpler- find a local audiologist, have an exam, and receive prescription hearing aids that were serviced and adjusted by your provider. Customarily, you paid one price up front for everything- the professional fitting, calibration, counseling and orientation, the hearing aids, the warranty, insurance for loss, future adjustments and recalibrations if needed, and routine service. You were paying for the time and expertise of the professional, as well as the hearing aids themselves. That one price covered all your visits, for a certain amount of time, usually three years, whether you had one visit or 30 visits in that time frame. There was little transparency, and most patients didn’t know exactly what they were paying for.
With the advent of some insurances providing coverage for hearing aids and the availability of hearing aids online, many providers have changed their pricing policies to accommodate the influx of patients who purchased their hearing aids elsewhere and need help and shrinking reimbursement rates from insurers.
At Palm Coast and Ormond Hearing Center, our pricing policies are flexible, affordable and a-la-carte so that every patient can get what they need, whether you get your hearing aids from us, or somewhere else.
Practices like ours that are “unbundled” have one price for the hearing aids, another for the fitting and calibration of the devices, and offer an optional service plan for the services that are provided after the fitting. If you opt not to purchase a service plan, you will pay for services as you need them when you come in (i.e., fee-for-service). This model is the same model used by physicians and other medical providers like dentists and podiatrists. If you go to the dentist and need a bridge, you will pay the evaluation and fitting of the appliance by the dentist and the bridge is a separate cost.
Many places will offer “free service” with your purchase, but it isn’t free – you paid at the time of your purchase, which is why their costs were so high, especially for premium technology.
Unbundling allows the costs of hearing care and hearing aids to be lower for many patients. In our practice, we knew that the bundled model meant that some patients were paying for services they didn’t need, and some patients received many more services but both were paying the same amount.
We are committed to transparency and want to help as many patients as possible so we offer truly customized care- where YOU choose the level of technology and the service option that is right for you.
Should I Get A Hearing Aid Service Plan?
That depends! When a patient comes into our office and needs hearing aids as part of their treatment plan, we discuss the services that are routinely necessary for the proper fitting and upkeep of their devices. Some of the services that you may need after the fitting are routine “clean and checks”- we will examine your ears to make sure they are healthy and thoroughly check and clean your devices to make sure they operating properly; use and care support like pairing of your devices to your phone and learning how to use the wireless features; and adjustments and programming if your hearing changes or you need customized settings for specific situations. Visit fees can range from about $45 for routine cleaning with a technician, to several hundred dollars for adjusting and reprogramming by the doctor. If you have a service plan, you will have paid upfront for services and will not have any co-pays or fees due when you come in- you paid ahead of time. We work with my patients to determine how much support they may need after their fitting. If you are younger and healthy, have normal processing ability and good manual dexterity so you can properly clean your devices at home, and are adept with technology like smart phones and Bluetooth, we wouldn’t advise you to get a service plan. Chances are you will not need much more than quarterly cleanings so your out-of-pocket costs will be very low; a service plan wouldn’t be a good value since you will be paying for services you wouldn’t need. On the other hand, if you have chronic health problems, speech processing issues, or poor dexterity due to poor vision or neuropathy, or have little experience with technology, then a service plan will save you money- you will probably need more support and adjustments and will be coming in more often for help.