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Why Do Cellphones Get Cheaper But Hearing Aids Cost More?


It's a frustrating dilemma: Why have digital improvements helped us get a cheaper smartphone, TV or computer, but the same kind of technological advancements have only caused the price tab of hearing aids to soar - and for a population who can least afford it?

It's a question that New York Times writer Tricia Romano asked in a recent article titled "The Hunt for an Affordable Hearing Aid."

Romano is not an inexperienced hearing aid customer. She's been wearing one for more than 30 years, due to hearing loss as a child. When her current device started making popping sounds and she was told it needed to be replaced, she chronicled her struggles to find one that wasn't exorbitant in cost.

As she put it, "In the last 10 years, purchasing a hearing aid had become even more difficult and confusing than buying a new car - and almost as expensive."

Hearing aids can now cost thousands of dollars and generally aren't covered by insurance. The average cost of a hearing aid, according to a report from the Hearing Review and the House Ear Institute, is $3,000, Romano reported.

So why have technological advances made some things cheaper yet only added to price of a hearing aid? Russ Apfel, an engineer who designed a technology now found in all hearing aids, told Romano there is no good reason for this."The hearing aid industry uses every new thing, like digital or a new algorithm, to raise prices," he said.

One place that has bucked the trend toward higher prices: Costco, where prices are about half the industry standard. "Not surprisingly, Costco isn't winning any popularity contests in the [hearing aid] industry," Romano wrote.

In the end, however, she discovered a much cheaper solution: In a tiny hearing aid shop, an older man looked at her old device - the one she had been told was dangerously worn and needed to be replaced immediately - and told her he could clean and fix it. For $100.

In other health news:

FDA says pharmacy knew of sterility problems for months. Health officials say the pharmacy at the center of the ongoing meningitis outbreak knew for nearly nine months that there were multiple instances of bacterial and fungal contamination in two "clean rooms" and took no action to correct this, according to the pharmacy's own environmental monitoring records, National Public Radio said. In the meantime, six new cases of meningitis have been reported, and the death toll is now at 25. Although most of the cases stem from spinal steroid shots, there are also seven reported infections after the tainted steroid was injected into knee, hip, shoulder or elbow joints, Reuters noted.

Photo: iStockphoto

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