The Truth About Mail Order Hearing Aids &
Most Hearing Aid Referral Networks
Why Shouldn't I Get Mail Order Hearing Aids? What About These New Online or Telephone Referral Companies Having Set Up Group Networks? Or Insurance Plans Which Have Partnered With Them In Order To Market That They Provide Hearing Aid Benefits? Maybe I Could Save Some Money That Way.
As stated before, the famous writer John Ruskin once wrote: "There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper (including hearing aids and service), and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey."
Hearing aids are complex medical devices that have to be made to match the necessary prescription and ear shape of the individual hearing aid wearer. Buying cheap generic hearing devices or even real hearing aids from a company that may buy them in 'bulk', with the pretense of 'one-size-fits-most', who then resells them one unit at a time with the promise that it will magically be the answer for your particular hearing loss, will not work. Or worse, what if you are actually just getting a knock-off or counterfeit hearing aid made to look like the $2500 version of the real thing (amazingly for less than a thousand dollars). Even if they are the real thing, they may be second hand or repair jobs being sold as new. In any case, it may make you happy at first that you were smarter than the average bear (or so you thought) and saved a lot of money, and now everything sounds louder, but any general amplifier can do that. What people fail to realize is that in order to hear well you need clarity. And clarity can only be achieved by making a hearing aid that matches the prescription and earshape of the wearer. If you gave your neighbor, or your brother, or your friend your glasses, they probably will say "how can you see out of these things." That's because the glasses are made to match your prescription, and your prescription only. When dealing with a mail order or internet sales company, you may find that they have you choose the hearing device by the description "if you have to ask people to repeat themselves, choose this one", or by the description "if telephone conversations are sometimes difficult, choose this one", or by the description "if you cannot use the telephone without amplification, choose this one". These are three actual descriptions that one existing mail order company uses for people to assess for themselves which hearing device to order.
Even if they claim that it is model xx123 from company Xyz, there are many different assessments and tests to determine what the prescription for a particular person's hearing aids should be, what components should be put into your hearing aids to begin with, and which type of hearing aids that person should even be allowed to consider (generally, hearing aid size is comparable to eyeglass lens thickness). Even after your hearing aids are made according to your individual prescription, you will still need to come back for fine-tunings based on your personal perception of the sounds around you in your everyday life. Two people with similar (or even identical, if that's possible) prescriptions will have a different perception of what levels of various sounds they like and dislike, or what sounds they are bothered by or what sounds they would like to hear more of. This is where the fine-tuning comes in. Faxing an audiogram to a mail order business for them to choose which one of their 'stock' hearing aids you are least likely to send back to them is not the way to go. And letting them talk you into having them 'progam' your hearing aids before they send them to you in the mail will only cause you problems as well, regardless of what they may tell you.
In fact, many states have laws FORBIDDING the mail order or online sales of hearing aids. Other states have not caught up with the possibility that a poorly selected hearing aid can have dangerous implications. Some hearing aid laboratories even warn people about not 'purchasing' their hearing aids from mail order or online 'dealers' who may have gotten their hands on some of their hearing aids. This is not to 'protect the distribution chain', as some of these mail order companies may use as an excuse, but rather it is to protect their hearing aid laboratories from lawsuits. Knowing that the problem is too big to tackle and also that the temptation of individuals to foolishly try to save money is impossible to control, the State of California has passed a law forbidding any California hearing care providers from even giving advice, selecting, fitting, or adjusting any hearing aids sold over the mail or internet. New York State also has a law forbidding New York hearing care providers from 'selling' hearing aids to anyone within New York State through the mail or online (it can't regulate what happens in other states). Some companies have found loopholes in the laws, and are trying to look more reputable, by setting up "referral call centers" or "networks of independent providers" instead. Rather than selling hearing aids directly to you, they simply provide a phone number for people to call, and refer you to (once again) an unscrupulous hearing care provider who has signed a contract with them to fit you with a set from a small handful of their pre-chosen hearing aids which the referring company had selected at the time the contract between them was signed. The referring company makes money from the "sale" of the hearing aids, the unscrupulous provider makes a small commission from the referring company, and you get your cheap hearing aids. However, now that you have the hearing aids and are having problems with them, nobody is going to want to help you, because the referring company has done its job (sell you cheap hearing aids) and they will tell you to go to the person who actually "sold" them to you. Well, the hearing care provider cannot do much with these cheap hearing aids, or was not paid enough by the referring company to be even willing to help you now. But that's not their problem, they already got your money, and to them it's all about the money -- regarless of how seemingly nice and helpful they seem, or how slick and professional their websites and marketing packages are. This is why the laws are in place, because it is impossible to properly fit hearing aids, both in physical fit and in acoustic fit, without the hearing care provider and the individual being face to face. Some people and some companies will always find ways to beat the law through loopholes, and try to re-invent themselves to always find new angles. Don't fall for this. The dangers of an improperly fit hearing aid are, amongst other things, increased hearing loss because some frequencies may be too loud (if only certain frequencies are too loud it may not be apparent to the user, but still may cause damage), some frequencies not being strong enough and not allowing the necessary frequencies to complete the prescription, some frequencies being too strong making some sounds too harsh or limiting understanding when certain sounds are present, improper physical fit in the ear canal which may cause soreness, swelling, abrasions, or even a ruptured eardrum. It also gives the individual the false and unfortunate sense of "I already tried hearing aids but they did not work for me, I can't adjust to them, so I'll just have to live the way I am." Or "I still don't hear that well, so it's a good thing I only spent $500 and not $2000." Well the problem is that this person just wasted $500 and will now live with not hearing well for at least several more years, simply because they fell for some marketing scheme promising to give you a $2000 hearing aid for only $500. The results would have been much different if that person had gone through the proper procedure, and now that person would be able to hear well and be happy. But unfortunately, because of greed by both parties (it's human nature, and a perfect scenario -- how easily they are able to take money from people looking to pay as little as possible), this person ends up frustrated and miserable, but still with $1500 in hand, which is now not enough if they need a $2000 hearing aid. If it is not done right from the beginning you will not get the proper results. Unfortunately, some insurance companies and supplemental insurance plans are starting to team up with such network groups in order to be able to market themselves as having "hearing aid benefits" to help sell their insurance plans, either without realizing or without caring that these tricks are being played. Just go to someone reputable who is able to get hearing aids from any hearing aid laboratory, and fit you with the hearing aids that you really need, rather than having to choose from what is contracted through that group network. Offices that have signed contracts with such organizations will not be able to tell you, "This is the hearing aid we have to give you, but you really need this one". Instead, they are forced to simply say, "This is the hearing aid we will fit you with."
To anyone still doubting what is written on this page: This is why we have this page instead of having a catalog where anyone nationwide can put in their credit card number and purchase "something that will hopefully not be sent back to us". And this is why we don't work with sales companies disguised as referral companies or network groups. Because the hearing aids will not work properly for the individual without a thoroughly honest and sincere hearing care provider working face to face with that individual, free to do whatever needs to be done to get that individual to hear well again, without being bound by contracts of sales companies masquerading around as referral companies or group networks. And the true problem with this is that you won't know what you should have unless you are actually wearing and experiencing the proper hearing aids you should have. You don't know what you are missing out on until somebody shows you. And some people will feel "well it's better than having nothing," so they keep whatever they bought in the mail or from the network member, and live with it, forcing themselves to be content with their purchase even though they still don't hear well at all. Blind trust just because someone promises you that you'll save some money is not good, especially if it involves many hundreds of dollars (yes, even though they promise to save you thousands).
Our goal is (and the goal of the hearing care industry should be): once everything is said and done your hearing aids should make you hear as close to normal as your natural body still allows.
Wouldn't it be great if senior citizens could get deeply discounted dentures through a mail order catalog? Or if we could get cheap braces for our kids through the mail, or at least call a toll free number and be referred to an orthodontist who is willing to work with pre-mandated specifications for seemingly half the price (but is really only getting a small percentage of commission for his work, as most of the money is kept by the referral company)? But, first of all, what kind of an orthodontist would be willing to do that, and secondly, what would the true results really be? This is why there are laws in place, some of which unfortunately have loopholes. Surely some people would ignorantly try to save money this way, but in the end they suffer through the entire ordeal. Again, it's human nature to try to save money -- making us the perfect prey because we are naturally drawn to saving money. However, none of these methods would meet the proper requirements nor professional expectations, and they will at best not work well, or at worst do added harm to the individual. If the deal is too good to be true, IT IS. To those still in denial, where the temptation to "save $2000 on a set of $4000 hearing aids" is too great to pass up, think about this for a minute: It is highly unlikely that anybody on the other end of a computer or a phone line 2000 miles away, selling what they claim are the proper hearing aids for you at such a bargain that you can't believe it's for real, is going to look out for your best interest. And their suppliers, who may be many thousands of miles away and may have some company manufacturing or supplying them with whatever it is you are buying, are more than happy to oblige them. Some unscrupulous hearing care providers are more than happy to get the "sales referral" as well. Desperation breeds foolishness and the world is more than happy to take advantage of that. People who fall for these bargain basement prices when they need to wear complex medical devices have only themselves to blame when they still have problems understanding speech well, or when they are not comfortable with their new "hearing aids" -- ESPECIALLY IF THEY HAVE READ THIS PAGE AND STILL GO AHEAD AND DO IT. If it's not done properly, it's not going to work properly for you, regardless of what the person taking your money tells you as they extend their hand.
Herkimer Hearing Aid Center