4 things to do before deciding to buy hearing aids

The pandemic has postponed the release of rules for a new category of high-tech, low-cost, over-the-counter hearing aids that users would be able to buy and program themselves, but a D.C.-based consumers group has tips for visiting licensed professionals instead.

“Your first step is — make sure you really do need a hearing aid,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor of Consumers’ Checkbook. “There are some medical conditions that really won’t be helped with a hearing device.”

If hearing aids can help you, realize that most private insurance plans don’t cover them for adults and Medicare doesn’t either.

Shopping around could save thousands.

“Our undercover shoppers at Checkbook shopped 50 different hearing centers here in the Washington area and found remarkable differences from business to business for the exact same pair of hearing aids,” Brasler said.

The cost for one specific model of hearing aid that included testing, fitting and programming ranged between $3,600 and $7,424 for a pair. Prices for another model ranged from $2,175 to $6,572.

Another tip: Find out about the return policy, if the hearing device just isn’t right for you.

“A lot of these hearing aids — they’re custom-molded to your ear — so really want to find out in advance, ‘What’s the return policy here?'” Brasler said.

For refunds, find out how long you have to test out the device, and how much of the price you’ll get back after how long.

Also, be clear on how many adjustments for fine-tuning come cost free.

“You’re going to want to make sure that there’s lots of flexibility in terms of the programing that can be done and how long you have of a trial period to get satisfied before they start charging you extra for programming time,” Brasler said.

There’s a hearing aid guide on the Hearing Loss Association of America website.

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, WTOP.com readers can see ratings on 50 area hearing centers for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent, nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices for more than 40 years.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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