Every time Consumer Reports releases their “Best of” for hearing aids, I must explain to my patients that a hearing aid is not a consumer device. It’s not like rating a refrigerator or a microwave based solely on the features of the electronic appliance.

Hearing aids are only one piece of the puzzle that we, as hearing healthcare providers use to help people hear better. There are many other factors to consider. Each person is unique with their own hearing loss history, perceptions, lifestyles, expectations, cosmetic concerns, budget concerns, etc. Therefore, there is no “one best” hearing aid, and it certainly isn’t “one size fits all”.

I’ve had many people over the years walk into my office with great hearing aids that just aren’t fit or programmed properly to their needs, and that’s where our expertise comes into play. It’s like someone that bought an expensive luxury car, but when it breaks down, the mechanic is the one they need to make it work!

There are many times when I tell them something about their hearing aid that they never knew because no one ever took the time to tell them about it or show them how to utilize it.

Hearing aids have been regulated by the FDA as a medical device since 1977. That means that they can only be dispensed by licensed hearing healthcare providers. It requires a hearing test and, in some cases, medical clearance from a physician. Children under the age of 18 are required to having medical clearance before hearing aids can be dispensed.

For many years, there have been “mail-order” amplifiers (disguised as hearing aids) available in magazines, from TV commercials, and more recently on the internet. These are not regulated by theFDA. In recent years, they are called PSAPs (personal sound amplification products). There are many different kinds with varying degrees of quality, which is very confusing for the consumer.

Medicare doesn’t cover them, and even though some Medicare Advantage plans claim to cover hearing aids, the patients still end up paying close to 80% of the cost out of pocket.

For many years when I am asked, “Why doesn’t Medicare pay for hearing aids?” my reply is “be careful what you wish for…”. Many years ago, there was a union-based insurance plan that did cover hearing aids…but only ONE type, regardless of what the patient actually needed, they only covered the one they deemed necessary, and yes, it was the cheapest one available.

Another example, I have a huge problem with insurance companies dictating which medications I can take (they cover), regardless of what my physician actually prescribed.

Physicians go to medical school for many years to learn about medicine and patient care; last time I checked, insurance companies weren’t required to do that.

I do personally believe that insurance companies should help with the cost of hearing aids but not at the expense of the patient or the provider. There should be some middle ground that would be beneficial to many people.

The ones who think that OTC hearing aids are a good idea think they are going to help thousands of people gain access to quality hearing aids at affordable pricing. I believe that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sure, there may be a small percentage of people who will be helped, but what about the thousands more that try them and are so disappointed that they never want to try “hearing aids” again. A hearing aid is just the “widget” in our profession.

Making it work is our magic!

I truly hope that this brings more awareness to the role that we play and that we are not “greedy, price-gouging” hearing care providers. What we do is truly valuable to the overall experience and success of our patients.

Always remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Do you know somebody that needs to see this? Why not share it?

Kelli Smith, Au.D.

Dr. Smith earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Science and Disorders from the University of Montevallo in 1991, graduating with Cum Laude honors. She received her Master’s Degree in Audiology in 1993 from the University of South Carolina and completed her clinical Doctorate of Audiology degree (Au.D.) from Arizona School of Health Sciences in 2005. Dr. Smith is licensed by the State of Georgia as an Audiologist. She is a member of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), and the Georgia Academy of Audiology (GAA), where she served on the Board as a regional representative from 2004-2007, Chair of Publications from 2004-2008, and webmaster from 2005-2011. In 2012, Dr. Smith was awarded Honors of the Association for outstanding service to GAA.