Written by Kathleen Mennillo, Ex. Dir., International Hearing Society

There continues to be an ongoing debate among hearing health care practitioners about the billing practices for hearing aids and hearing health services.  As a consumer you need to know the difference between them to determine which is better for you.  Is it better for you if your hearing care professional “bundles” the product and services together in your invoice or would you rather they itemize every single transaction/fee separately?  While there are pros and cons to both scenarios, in an unbundled situation, it is very possible that you could miss out on a complete hearing solution and perhaps end up paying more in the long run.
It Works for Customer- Centric Apple
Earlier this year, my stepdad retired from a long career as a CPA. To thank him for his many years of service, his office gave him an Apple iMac computer and an Apple iPad as retirement gifts.  He researched the available options and decided to upgrade the iMac to the larger screen before he even took it out of the box.  Since then, my parents made several trips to the Apple store for their “free classes” and have become quite versed in the technology and know-how to use these devices better than I-and I’ve had my iMac for two years!  As baby boomers in their mid-sixties my parents, like so many others within their generation, are savvy shoppers.  They do online research and ask friends and family before they purchase.  I have never seen them in control when making a purchase-even in a “bundled situation such as their Apple purchases.  This is how it should be when consumers make any purchase, including hearing aids. Individuals with hearing loss are not only patients, they are consumers, and they have the power to purchase hearing aids from any licensed professional and should be able to determine the billing model that best meets their needs-and still ensure they get a complete hearing solution.
It’s About Communicating Needs, Wants and Deliverables
Of course in the example above where we were talking about a powerhouse such as Apple, we can assume they’ve done enough research to know what services they need to “include” in their pricing to keep customers happy and to ensure their product delivers everything that’s expected.  Ultimately, the key to successfully buying any product, including a hearing aid, is that you, the consumer, are getting what you paid for which is determined by your needs, wants and expected deliverables.
A Solution Versus a Commodity
When consumers seek help for their hearing loss, they are not typically aware of what to expect when they enter the hearing care provider’s office.  Either they have realized they are not hearing as well as they used to, or their family has encouraged them to seek help.  Regardless of the motivation, there is a concern about their hearing health and they need a professional health care solution-not just a product.  This is why it is critical to do the research up front and work with a professional you trust.  Once a provider determines you are a candidate for hearing aids-your journey to better hearing has only just begun.  The bundled price for hearing aids might include the hearing consultation, test and evaluation, along with the hearing device, batteries and rehabilitation.  All of these components are critical for a successful hearing solution.  This pricing model has been popular in hearing health care for a number of years-particularly with hearing aid specialists-and promotes full-service hearing solutions.
Get What You Paid For and Focus on Hearing Better
You are paying for a trained, licensed professional to help improve your hearing; so you can focus on hearing better rather than worrying about if you paid for a particular service.  If you are seeing a trusted professional and they have explained what your purchase includes, you should feel confident that you are getting everything you need to properly address your hearing loss-no more and no less.  In this customer-centric approach there will likely be several months-if not a full year of rehabilitation services included in your purchase.  This means even if you leave with your new aids and find yourself struggling to keep the instrument clean or experience new environments which require an adjustment to your device you’ll be covered at no charge.
Bundling Promotes Equality
Services are typically calculated as a percentage of sale when bundled with the cost of the hearing aid rather than a set fee schedule.  To the consumer this means there is no difference in the level of service based on the cost of the aid, and that contrary to what many believe, the bundled price may actually save the consumer some money.
Increased Satisfaction with Your Purchase
Just like Apple did with my parents, including the services in the price of the hearing aids increases the likelihood you will be satisfied with your purchase.  If you have a problem with your new device, you will be more likely to return to the office for help instead of throwing it in the drawer; since rehabilitation services are covered in the bundling purchase model.
Get a Full Return
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to return your hearing aid, a bundled purchase will benefit you.  For example, your state laws may dictate that you are only allowed to receive 75 percent of the amount you paid for your new device.  Here’s where it gets tricky. 75 percent of the bundled $1,600 sale price is $1,200, which means you likely received a fair return on a product you do not want.  But if your hearing health care provider charges $1,600 using the unbundled philosophy you are only getting back 75 percent of the $1,200 hearing aid price which is $900-you lose an additional $300.
Common Services Typically Covered in the Bundled Price
Bundling makes sure you or your loved one gets all of the services you are entitled to and not just the ones that can be billed to your insurance.  Some of these common services which are critical to the success of your hearing solution include:
         Reprogramming of the device. This is important when wearing the aid in different environments and as your hearing loss changes.
        Counseling on how to comfortably insert the aid(s) in your ear and how to adjust the settings when applicable.
        Cleaning and wax removal in the instruments-you would be surprised how common this is and the effect it has on its performance.
Finance the Product and the Service
Another popular trend with today’s savvy consumers is the utilization of no or low interest finance programs.  This is true with hearing aid purchasers as well.  Most of these programs finance a total purchase amount and do not always allow the ability to add to the principal.  If your hearing aid and services are all billed together, your entire purchase is likely eligible for financing.  In some cases, this may be the only option for a cash-strapped consumer to address their hearing rather than financing a portion and paying out of pocket for additional services.  Without this option, you or your loved one may be forced to use funds already allocated for necessary living expenses, or pass up the opportunity to improve their hearing, definitely not a consumer-friendly approach.
Conclusion
In the end, it is up to you and your hearing health professional to work together to come up with the best hearing health solution for you-which includes your billing and payment options.  It is important to be informed about the different billing models and to have a good handle on which one is best for you, when you begin searching for a provider.  Hopefully when you do your research up front, you will be happy with your newly purchased hearing aid(s).  That’s the key to a successful purchase!  The International Hearing Society unequivocally supports the goal of encouraging more Americans to successfully use hearing devices to treat various forms of hearing loss. The IHS hosts a Hearing Aid Helpline for individuals with hearing loss, receiving more than 1,000 calls annually. Hearing Aid Helpline: 800.521.5427.  If you have hearing loss and haven’t done anything about it, regain control of your life.  It is sad when someone doesn’t realize how they have compromised their quality of life by accepting hearing loss as a normal part of life.  Because the loss is often gradual, you may get used to it and decide not to do anything to address it.  Don’t let that happen to you.  Be sure to do the research up front just like my parents did when they upgraded their iMac and shop around until you find a licensed professional you trust.  This relationship should be long lasting.
Reprinted with permission of the International Hearing Society (IHS). It was written by IHS Executive Director Kathleen Mennillo with assistance from the President of the Hearing Healthcare Providers of Arizona and published in Hearing Loss Magazine.

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