Step #1 – Visit Your ENT
You will initially make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat MD (ENT) to determine whether you have a medically treatable condition associated with any hearing loss, and to have your ear canals cleaned. If you are diagnosed with a treatable condition – then you must absolutely follow the medical advice of your physician. If none is found, you should ask for a signed medical clearance form and a copy of your hearing test. The office should also contact your health insurance company to determine what, if any, benefits you might have for a hearing aid purchase. If you are referred to the in-house hearing aid sales group, get their exact RIC models and prices for shopping comparisons. Be sure you come away with the exact amount you will have to pay after any insurance benefit, and confirm that the office will bill insurance directly for the amount of any benefit you are eligible for. This confirms that you will only have to pay the non-covered amount on the day you take delivery of your hearing aids.
Step #2 – Call Your Insurance Company
Before you begin to shop, personally call and get the amount of any benefits and any requirement that you must work with certain dealers to be eligible for the benefit. If you are required to work with “approved” dealers, obtain a list in your area so you can investigate them in step 4. WARNING: Most dealers want you to pay their price up-front in full and then have you fight to be reimbursed by your insurance company. DO NOT FALL FOR THIS TACTIC! If you get confirmation directly from your insurance carrier that a SPECIFIC dealer you are considering meets the company’s criteria for benefits, DO NOT PAY FULL PRICE IN ADVANCE. Only pay the cost after the credit for the benefit and make the dealer bill your insurance company for the difference.
Step #3 – Visit a Costco Hearing Center
If there is a Costco reasonably nearby, pay a visit to its hearing center (call first to make sure they have one). You do not have to join the club to visit with the specialists there, but if you intend to have your hearing tested when you visit, you will have to join Costco (current minimum is $55.) First observe how busy the center appears to be. Many established locations are literally overrun with customers. You will notice that the prices of the RICs are displayed openly as well as other key policies. Make notes on Costco’s price for premium or advanced RICs with an emphasis on Big Six flagship brands (currently Phonak only), and their terms and conditions of sale. If you have your hearing tested, be sure to come away with a copy of the test, brochures and written prices for what you’ve been asked to purchase. Be advised that Costco will provide you with appropriate billing codes and a documentation of your purchase if you want to attempt reimbursement from your insurance carrier. However, Costco makes no assurances that your purchase from them qualifies for reimbursement.
Step #4 – Investigate Insurance Approved Dealers
If your insurance company has confirmed that you have benefits for a hearing aid purchase, and that the benefit is conditional upon buying only from approved dealers, you will want to check them out – BY PHONE. Call to determine if the dealer sells Big Six flagship brands. If so, ask them to quote you your final cost – after the benefit – for RICs that meet our qualifying keys. If you get price “double talk” (see Appendix B, “Price Double Talk”), that is a huge strike against that dealer (and the insurance company) and is a warning to proceed with extreme caution. If the dealer will tell you your cost after the benefit, compare that to the Costco straight purchase price. Costco’s straight purchase price will almost always be less than what you’ll pay the dealer EVEN AFTER THE DEALER CREDITS YOU FOR THE BENEFIT. There is no better example than this to show you how people can “lose at hearing aids.”
Step #5 – Identify Big Six Flagship Brand Dealers in Your Area
You find flagship brand dealers in your market by going to the flagship brand’s website and using their “find a dealer” feature (or with the yellow pages or other internet searches). Unlike web front-ends, these sites actually give you the name and address of the dealers and physician’s offices near you. To talk directly with a hometown dealer, only use local area code telephone numbers. 800-type numbers are almost always a front-end that will try hard to close you into setting a hearing test appointment.
Step #6 – Identify Ethical Dealers.
If the local dealers have websites visit them and determine if any publish the prices of qualifying RICs. For dealers who don’t publish prices, or who don’t have web sites, call them and ask if they will quote prices for qualifying RICs over the phone. Eliminate from consideration any dealer that gives you “price double talk” about seeing a professional before they can quote prices, or about how your “lifestyle” dictates how much you need to spend. Also eliminate dealers who try to move you onto brands other than Big Six flagship brands.
Step #7 – Only Consider Ethical Dealers.
Consider any dealer that – like Costco – openly discloses prices for qualifying RICs, and is forthcoming about their terms and conditions of sale. Determine the dealer’s policies concerning insurance benefits and make it clear that you are not going to pay in full and then attempt to be reimbursed. Compare the quoted prices and terms with Costco’s. If the prices seem reasonable – and you’re ready – agree to have your hearing tested.
Step #8 – The Hearing Test Appointment.
Going in, you know you’re going to be asked to buy hearing aids, but you’ve thoroughly prepared yourself by following the seven steps. This is how you should approach the hearing test appointment:
- Give the dealer copies of your ENT’s medical waiver and hearing test.
- If you have insurance benefits (as determined in step #2), verify that they will accept partial payment for a purchase and then obtain reimbursement directly from your insurer for the balance.
- Go through the testing process.
- When the dealer presents their pricing, MAKE SURE THE QUOTED PRICE IS FOR THE EXACT RIC MODEL (circuit ID and Performance Level ID) YOU FIRST INQUIRED ABOUT. This is where bait and switch comes into play. All of your effort to ensure the quality of your purchase can be defeated if you don’t insist on evidence in the WRITTEN purchase agreement that you’re buying the exact RIC model you’re seeking. Also ask for the results of the staff’s investigation into any benefit you have, and how much it will reduce your out-of-pocket expense if you decide to purchase.
- If you feel that the actual out-of-pocket expense compares favorably with Costco’s straight purchase price, then you’ve positioned yourself to win…IF:
- You have a high level of comfort with the professionalism and courtesy of the dealer.
- You had the opportunity to handle a demonstration RIC to ensure your ability to easily place it on your ear and manage the battery insertion and removal requirement (rechargeable RICs from Sivantos/Siemens overcome battery difficulties).
- You were given – at your option – an opportunity to wear and listen to demonstration RICs programmed with your prescription, preferably in a setting other than a quiet office.
- You were – at your option – given the opportunity to use mirrors or video to see how the RICs look on you.
- The terms of sale, such as the trial period, manufacturer’s warranties and in-office service polices are comparable to Costco’s.
- You feel you are truly ready to purchase hearing aids…AND
- The dealer in NO WAY tries to pressure you into buying right then – including dropping the price as an incentive to make a hurried decision. If you feel any pressure whatsoever – get up and leave…period.
Step #9 – You Win!
At this point you’ve done everything you reasonably could to be a winner in a hearing aid deal. If you don’t order hearing aids right then, you’ve certainly identified a dealer that is demonstrating a sincere desire to deal with you fairly and honestly – no small accomplishment in any business.