I sympathize with several of the points made in the PCAST report (see my last couple of blog entries for other PCAST discussion), one of which is the limited accessibility of hearing care in the US due to high cost. So, what is “high”? Like beauty, “high” is in the eye of the beholder. A few folks can toss out $7,000 without blinking, but there aren’t many of those in our area. I saw one person recently who was referred to me by a local charity. This should give you a clue about their finances. They had been to a local firm and had signed up for a pair of hearing aids that were priced in the neighborhood of $7,000. The charity representative was adamant that these folks could not afford these aids. The situation is yet to be resolved, but I suspect they will get a refund and petition the Lions Charity Foundation for the hearing aids they need.
So is there a middle ground between charity and $7,000? Of course there is. Every audiologist who runs a business has costs to consider. He must charge enough, both to meet those costs and to make a profit. Otherwise he will be out of business. I believe one of the audiologist’s ethical responsibilities is to do their best to keep overhead in check, particularly with regard to hearing aid costs. Buying groups, managed care, individual manufacturer agreements, all these are avenues worth exploring.
Audiologists also need to promote an awareness among consumers/patients/clients regarding the value of their services. They can do this by offering a more comprehensive program of care than other providers. They can also do this by itemizing their prices for products and services instead of bundling everything together. Outreach events can be helpful in this regard. I’m going to speak at a Lions Club dinner tonight and there’s an event next week (the Senior Forum at CNU) where I’ll offer hearing screening.
The patient also has responsibilities. He needs to be an informed consumer of hearing health care. Family and/or friends need to be involved if the patient is elderly and is having trouble making financial decisions. Then they can shop around until they find an audiologist, a price, and results they can live with.