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For Hearing Aid Users, Fit and Function Come First

July 25 2009 | by

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The New York Times chronicled the exasperations of buying a hearing aids, reminding users that aids are expensive — with prices averaging $2,000 each — and generally not covered by insurance.

Hearing aid shopping is a pressing issue for those with hearing loss, especially those with age-related loss who aren’t used to such large out-of-pocket expenses. The best advice, however, is to choose an experienced audiologist or specialist, instead of relying on walk-in stores or Internet purchases. It’s the only way to ensure fit and a program that’s right for you. “No matter how state of the art your hearing aid may be …if it is not properly programmed and adjusted it will not do you any good,” says Lise Hamlin, director of public policy for the Hearing Loss Association.

While most people pay for hearing aids with their own wallet, a few exceptions include Veterans Affairs programs and some federal employee insurance, as well as state vocational agencies — if you can prove that you need a hearing aid for work.

In June, Consumer Reports released a report that said most hearing aid users were receiving inadequate care when it came to finding aids fit well and were programmed to their needs. Consumer Reports followed a dozen actual patients for six months as they shopped for and used hearing aids, and conducted a national survey of 1,100 people who had bought a hearing aid in the past three years, along with lab-testing most of the hearing aids that were purchased.

The study found that hearing aid users were paying high prices along and receiving either mediocre fittings or off-kilter programs. They also said users were unaware that they could take their hearing aids back to the stores for readjustments. Yes, it’s rare that a person can go directly to the source: most hearing aid manufacturers are based in Europe.

However, not all of the Consumer Reports shoppers went to audiologists or experienced professionals. “Shoppers encountered a variety of providers, including hospital-based clinics and strip-mall storefronts, all legally able to fit a hearing aid, but with varied resources and expertise,” the report said. Bottom line: See an audiologist and save yourself the headache.

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