Hearing aids cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Here’s what you need to know before you buy.
Hearing aids have gone hi-tech. They can alert emergency services if you have a fall, be controlled through your phone, or even hook up to Bluetooth. But is it worth forking out for these features? We walk you through the need-to-knows of buying hearing aids.
Prices for hearing aids range widely. A basic pair of aids usually starts at about $450 while a top-of-the-line model can cost more than $8000.
The higher the price, the more bells and whistles. But don’t assume you need all the extras. The type of aid that’s best for you depends on your level of hearing and your day-to-day life (see “Types of hearing aid”).
If you’re often out and about talking to lots of people in noisy venues, some aids are so sophisticated they attempt to separate speech and ease background noise. These aids will be pricier than ones that simply amplify sound in quiet situations.
If you’re a homebody and generally attend small social gatherings, a basic model may be all you need.
Regardless of the type of aid, you can get a subsidy to help with costs. Kiwis and permanent residents 16 years and over are eligible for a subsidy of $511.11 (per aid). You can apply for this subsidy every six years to purchase new aids.
Other financial support is available if you’re on a low income or have high needs (see “Funding available”).
Other costs: As well as the cost of the aids, you’ll usually need to pay for a hearing test.
Clinics may offer a free hearing check. However, you’ll pay for a diagnostic hearing test to assess your level of hearing loss (see our Table). Prices at the six hearing clinics we reviewed ranged from $59 (Specsavers) to $120 (Dilworth Hearing).
Other costs you may need to factor in are fitting fees. The six hearing clinic chains we looked at didn’t charge these fees to customers who were eligible for the hearing aid subsidy. However, other clinics may charge.
Fitting fees cover the device being fitted and programmed. You’ll also be shown how to use the aid and how to maintain it.
If your hearing aid uses disposable batteries, that’s another cost to consider.
Modern hearing aids are a far cry from the bulky aids of old. What will suit you depends on your hearing loss, the size of your ear canal and how fiddly the aids are to look after.
If you have limited dexterity in your hands or poor vision, an aid with a rechargeable battery may be easier than one that uses replaceable batteries.
Audiometrists and audiologists can both carry out hearing tests. An audiologist has a Master of Audiology degree while audiometrists have a Diploma of Audiometry and are supervised by an audiologist.
Only audiologists and audiometrists who are members of the New Zealand Audiological Society can access hearing-aid subsidies on your behalf.
Hearing clinics need to be upfront with you about costs.
If you’re applying for the subsidy, before you trial or buy a hearing aid the clinic must give you:
the retail cost of the hearing aid
the amount of the subsidy
an itemised list of charges you have to pay
a quote for the total amount payable
a copy of the Ministry of Health’s Guide to Getting Hearing Aids.
You’re also entitled to a copy of your test results so you can shop around.
If you want to keep costs down, make this clear to the clinic. Ask to be shown cheaper options if you think the aid recommended is too pricey or has features you don’t need.
You should be given a trial period so you can find out if the hearing aid is suitable for you.
The ministry recommends trial periods of six to eight weeks. Three clinics we surveyed offered 60 days (Bay Audiology, Dilworth Hearing and Triton Hearing). Specsavers offered 90 days.
Audika and New Zealand Hearing clinics offered just 30 days, although may extend this time depending on the person’s needs.
Subsidised hearing aids must be on the ministry’s list of approved aids. There are currently more than 1800 aids on the list. However, most clinics prescribe aids from just a couple of manufacturers. Of the 34,810 subsidised aids dispensed last year, the most common were GN Hearing brands (10,688) followed by Oticon (9910) and Bernafon (4026).
If the hearing aids don’t work for you during the trial period, they may need to be adjusted by the clinic. However, if you’re not happy with the aids during the trial, you can return them for a refund (fitting fees may not be refundable).
Hearing aids normally have a manufacturer’s warranty. However, they’re also covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act. So if your aid is faulty, and you haven’t caused the problem, the clinic must put things right.
Some clinics offer after-sales perks. Dilworth and Bay Audiology provide free aftercare and appointments for 12 months, and then ongoing cleaning and checking for the life of the aid. Dilworth also provide 10 packets of batteries (except for clients funded by ACC). At Triton, follow-up appointments and on-site repairs are free for the life of the hearing aid.
New Zealand Hearing offers free appointments, cleaning, minor servicing and maintenance of aids purchased from them for a year. Audika offers free appointments for six months while Specsavers provides them for 12 months, along with maintenance and adjustments. It also provides free batteries for 12 months.
When you’re shopping, ask the clinic what after-sales service it provides.
Most hearing aid clinics are part of international chains.
Bay Audiology is the largest player with 115 stores. It’s owned by Italian hearing aid retailer Amplifon, which also owns Dilworth Hearing.
Triton Hearing, owned by hearing aid manufacturer Sonova, has 70 stores. Audika is the third largest, with 30 stores. It’s owned by manufacturer Demant.
Specsavers, known for its cut-price glasses, entered the hearing aid market in 2019 and has eight clinics. Specsavers has its own brand of aids called Advance, although sells other brands. Other audiologists can’t adjust Advance aids without getting software from Specsavers.
Outside the overseas-owned chains, there are smaller audiology clinics. New Zealand Hearing, included in our survey, are owner-operated clinics.
Some smaller retailers belong to the Independent Audiologists of New Zealand Association. It currently has about 10 members.
If you just want to get your hearing checked, free tests are available from Life Unlimited. It’s a publicly funded service that provides hearing evaluations for people 16 years and over.
Life Unlimited doesn’t sell hearing aids but its hearing therapists can advise on living with hearing loss and whether an aid will help. They can also give guidance on using hearing aids and other hearing technology, such as portable microphones.
To make an appointment, go to lifeunlimited.net.nz or call 0800 008 011.
If you live in Auckland or Canterbury you can also visit the university hearing clinics run as part of the audiology teaching programme.
About 200,000 people experience tinnitus. The condition is a perception of sound in the ears, which may sound like ringing, buzzing, or cicadas in your ears. The condition increases with age, with 14 percent of people over 65 affected.
For some, it may develop because of long-term exposure to loud noises. For others, it’s linked to hearing loss. Although people can hear the tinnitus, it may be overshadowing an undiagnosed hearing loss.
Grant Searchfield, University of Auckland associate professor in audiology, recommends those experiencing the condition see an audiologist.
You can also get free help managing the condition with Life Unlimited.
“Although there are no cures, the treatment and therapies are effective in helping most people,” Mr Searchfield said.
If you’ve had significant hearing loss since childhood, or have a Community Services Card and hearing aids are essential, you may be eligible for extra support from the Ministry of Health through the Hearing Aid Funding scheme.
In 2019, the average wholesale cost of aids funded under the scheme was $1364. However, you may have to pay other costs, such as fitting fees. These can be $1500.
Other subsidies are available if:
you’ve served in the armed forces and your hearing was damaged during your service
your hearing loss is the result of an injury: ACC may contribute up to $1527 per aid and $1120 for fitting fees.