Report: The sound of affordable hearing aids likely to be heard in the near future

Online startups that upended the eyeglass industry and drove prices lower are expected to do the same for hearing aids, which haven't traditionally been a cheap option for the hearing impaired.

Of the 37.5 million people in the U.S. the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates suffer from hearing trouble, about 30% of them don't have hearing aids. That's probably because there's a big price tag associated with the devices (between $1,000 to $6,000) and they need to be custom fitted. Those costs aren't always covered by health insurance.

U.S. News & World Report says that pricing structure is likely to change in the very near future with the advent of new players in the market providing more affordable channels for buying hearing aids as well as walkers, prosthetics and other medical devices.

"The status quo of the hearing aid industry was that the only way you could hear again was going through the expensive brick-and-mortar channel," Patrick Freuler, founder and CEO of Audicus.com, told the publication. "The technological complexity of a hearing aid is not beyond modern cellphones, so we dug a bit deeper and saw that a lot of the pricing is driven by service components. We wanted to provide an alternative dispensing mechanism."

Under the Audicus program, a patient visits their physician or audiologist for a hearing test. The results are then sent via fax or email to Audicus and a customized hearing aid is sent out in the mail a few days later.

Another player in the market is HealthInnovations, which is part of UnitedHealth Group ($UNH) and sells its hearing aids to both policyholders and non-policyholders at prices that start at $699 for members and $799 for other consumers. Discounts are even given for certain groups like churches and community organizations.

"We're hearing-test agnostic," Lisa Tseng, CEO of HealthInnovations, told U.S. News. "You can get your hearing test anywhere you want, and we custom program your hearing aids to your needs."

- check out the U.S. News story

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