Besides the obvious difference in price, there is a huge difference in a device purchased from an Audiologist and one purchased from a drug store or even online.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Hearing aids are sound-amplifying devices designed to aid people who have a hearing impairment. Most hearing aids share several similar electronic components, including a microphone that picks up sound; amplifier circuitry that makes the sound louder; a miniature loudspeaker (receiver) that delivers the amplified sound into the ear canal; and batteries that power the electronic parts.
Almost 100% of hearing aids sold today are digital hearing aids. A digital hearing aid is programmed to each person’s individual loss and fitted to the person’s ear. Depending on the aid, this is sometimes a custom fit involving making a mold of the ear and having the aid manufactured specifically to fit. These hearing aids are fit by the Audiologist to ensure comfort of fit, appropriateness of gain, and patient satisfaction. The Audiologist provides follow-up care and maintains and repairs the devices. If you have a problem, you have a point of contact or someone to call. Do you pay a little more for the device? Yes. Will you have to pay for visits or services? Yes.
Your insurance will be billed when possible, but unfortunately most hearing services are not covered by insurance. But when is the last time you visited your eye doctor, or dentist, or primary care doctor without a bill? When you buy a car you generally have to pay for routine maintenance and diagnostics. Your hearing aid is the same.
They are actually amplifiers, also known as Personal Sound Amplifying Products or PSAPs. While the FDA has approved a category of Over-The-Counter hearing aids (OTC HA), these will not be available until 2021. Technically, devices purchased in drug stores or online are not supposed to be called hearing aids unless you have had your hearing tested and they have been programmed specifically for you. Much like the “cheater” pair of eyeglasses some people purchase for reading, a PSAP or OTC HA is designed for an individual with a mild to moderate hearing loss in the high-pitched end of the hearing range. And while yes, these OTC and PSAP devices are much more affordable, you get what you pay for. An inexpensive device, that kind of works, but isn’t exactly right, one that kind of fits, but doesn’t really. And who do you go to see about it? There is no one to see, no one to talk to. You are just stuck with it. If it breaks, you throw it in a drawer. If you still can’t hear in the crowded restaurant, what do you do? There is nothing you can do.