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Hear, Hear

Andrew Forsythe

I TURNED 70 THIS YEAR, and decided to finally do something about the hearing loss I’ve experienced over the past few years. In other words, get hearing aids.

I asked my older sister for advice. She told me she ended up spending $4,000 to $5,000 for her hearing aids a few years ago. She also said she wishes she’d asked her friends for advice first.

My sister doesn’t consider herself wealthy but has a few friends who are. She told me that, when she later asked these well-appointed ladies where they’d gotten their hearing aids, they replied—to a woman— “Oh, my dear, Costco is the only way to go.”

With this advice, Costco was on my radar, but I wanted to explore the alternatives first. After plenty of online reading and YouTube watching, I became interested in Eargo. It was an attractive option—tiny and discreet in-the-ear aids with rechargeable batteries. The company also has the best hearing aid commercial ever.

I’ll concede that I was put off by the fact that it had paid $34 million in April to settle a Department of Justice investigation, which also had quite a negative effect on the company’s stock. Things have gotten worse since. As I write this, the shares are trading below $2.

Nevertheless, I decided to give Eargo a try. I should mention that every hearing aid manufacturer or retailer I explored offered a “no questions asked” return policy, and Eargo was no exception.

Eargo is an all-remote operation. You take an initial hearing test online, place your order online, take delivery by mail, and follow up with phone or video sessions. I found the process easy and convenient, and was even able to negotiate a bit. I got a pair of its top-of-the-line model at a better-than-advertised price.

Unfortunately, the Eargos I received by mail didn’t fit well in my ear canals. In addition, despite the initial hearing tests indicating I was a good candidate, my hearing loss in one ear was too great for the Eargo aid to remedy.

I next decided to explore the program offered by my Medicare supplement policy with Mutual of Omaha. The insurer is affiliated with a group called Amplifon, which in turn referred me to a traditional, full-service hearing aid center in my area.

I made an appointment, went in for a hearing test, and then heard a brief pitch for its recommended hearing aids. The quotes per pair were $4,000 to $5,000, even with the “special” price I was getting through Mutual of Omaha. The budget shopper in me flinched at that, so I decided to finally check out Costco.

First, I had to join Costco, which costs $60 a year for my wife and me. Next, I made an appointment for an in-person exam at the Costco store. On the appointment date, my wife and I made the fairly long drive and I went through a test and evaluation—the most thorough to date.

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I was impressed with the tech, who was knowledgeable and patient with my many questions—and is not paid on commission, as Costco likes to point out. The retailer’s biggest seller is the house brand Kirkland 10.0 hearing aids, which sell for $1,399.99 a pair and are manufactured by Sonova, a Swiss company and one of the leading hearing aid manufacturers.

Similar models, sold under Sonova’s Phonak brand, cost thousands more, which is clearly one of the biggest selling points for the Costco models. While Costco is also happy to sell you other brands, and at higher prices, the Kirkland aids had all the features I wanted, and had great online reviews as well. I should also note that hearing aids are a qualified medical expense if you have a health savings account.

I placed my order that day and returned a couple of weeks later when my hearing aids had come in. They’d been calibrated by the tech according to my exam results. The fitting went well, and I knew right away these were probably going to work for me.

I went back again in two weeks for a follow-up appointment where the tech answered more questions and made an additional small tweak. A month later, I had a remote appointment through an app installed on my iPhone, which also allowed the tech to make another small adjustment.

There were no additional charges for all these appointments. As long as I keep my Costco membership current, I can schedule additional free appointments as often as needed, even if it’s for something as simple as having a complete cleaning done.

So far at least, I’ve had a great experience with Costco. I now can see why it’s so popular when it comes to hearing aids. Of course, there’s one other plus—or maybe it’s a negative. Every time we make a trip to Costco for an appointment, we leave the store with a few other “must haves” in our shopping cart.

Andrew Forsythe retired in 2017 after almost four decades practicing criminal law in Austin, Texas, first as a prosecutor and then as a defense attorney. His wife Rosalinda and he, along with their dogs, live outside Austin, at the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Their four kids are now grown, independent and successful. They’re also blessed with five beautiful grandkids. Andrew loves dogs, and enjoys collecting pocketknives and flashlights. Check out his earlier articles.

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Martin McCue
Martin McCue
14 days ago

Some Medicare Advantage and other health plans have added HAs in recent years, offering one or two standard choices. I got my HAs as soon as they were added to my plan, for $1,000. I got a mainstream HA from one of the top manufacturers (there were only 5-6 of them until recently). Everyone made out – I saved a lot of money, the HA manufacturer still made a pretty healthy profit (along with the confidence it would sell many thousands of HAs under the plan), and the plan had a selling point. Four years later and my HAs are still going strong. It also bought me time to see if the “deregulated” HA business would do any better in the next couple of years.

Jerry Pinkard
Jerry Pinkard
15 days ago

Costco is the leading HA retailer in the US. My first HA was from a ENT practice and a audiology doctor. After several years, I needed an upgrade and went to Costco. They claimed the HAs they sold me were the same as a model costing thousands more elsewhere. I think they were right.

I was concerned about the level of service I would get, especially since these were not full fledged doctors. However, I was very pleased with their competency and service.

If Costco is accessible to you, there is no reason to go to another, more expensive practice. I am on my 2nd set of Kirkland HAs.

steveark
steveark
15 days ago

I’m not far behind you, thanks for running those traps. You did it just like this engineer would have and saved me doing it!

David Golden
David Golden
15 days ago

Certainly glad Andrew found hearing aids (HAs) which will hopefully improve his participation in life. As a 51 year old who has worn HAs since high school, I cannot overstate the value of a competent audiologist. I have severe to profound loss which necessitates behind-the-ear (BTE) models. Most who experience hearing loss due to aging can be well-served by options costing far less than the ~$6k or so for my HAs.

Now, the unsolicited advice. It takes a while to get used to them. The world sounds quite different. Wear them a few hours at at time only as you adjust. Use a notebook to write down what is working well and needs improvement. No detail is too small. Work with your audiologist as programming digital HAs can result in much better outcomes.

Remember, HAs aid in hearing they do not correct loss the way glasses, contacts or surgery generally provides 20/20 vision. Semantics aside, the words matter.

Finally, do not make the mistake I made and so many others who purchase HAs only to sock-drawer them. Vanity, schmanity. No one cares you are wearing HAs. Sure they notice but then go back to the endless aspects of their own lives which make them self-conscious.

OldITGuy
OldITGuy
16 days ago

Great article; thanks! Yeah, Costco is often my “baseline” when comparison shopping. Another price that’s hard to beat (especially when you factor in their return policy and warranty) is appliances and electronics. But the most unexpected value for us has been rental car pricing. We often get the best price on rental cars from Costco, even when compared to the same vendors web site. Really surprising.

Paula Karabelias
Paula Karabelias
16 days ago

This is very helpful as my husband will likely need hearing aids soon. Thanks you !

parkslope
parkslope
16 days ago

It is worth noting that the FDA ruled in August that hearing aids can be sold over the counter without a prescription. The ruling was issued on Aug 16 with a 60-day waiting period. Hopefully, this will make quality hearing aids, which aren’t covered by Medicare, more affordable.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
16 days ago

Nice article Andrew. Good luck with the hearing aids. Costco can be a good deal if they have what you need or want. It can be tempting to overbuy. Their wines can be a great buy, but not every state (ours doesn’t unfortunately) allows it.

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