How do you buy hearing aids? … is it a disability rights topic? I think so. In its small way, it shows how our crazy healthcare system works for disabilities.

Buying hearing aids is also a lot trickier than you may think.

According to Consumer Reports. 48 million Americans have hearing loss. And, for many of us, most of us, hearing aids aren’t covered by health insurance.

Yep, a predictable, solvable healthcare problem isn’t covered….in many cases, there is no coverage at all for a product that typically costs over $1000 – for each ear – and can range up to $2500 – EACH.

Hearing aids are so expensive that some people who need them, don’t get them or get just ONE.

I’m not going to spend my time going over all the different types of hearing aids, mostly, I’m going to talk strategy with you.

Here’s the most important thing:

Buying hearing aids is much more like buying a car or computer than buying glasses.

They aren’t just a little amplifier that you stick in your ears, they are a state-of-the-art computer that can be reprogrammed and they last 5 to 7 years.

You need to think of them as an investment that will pay off for a long time.

I wound up replacing my first pair of hearing aids after 2 years because of a healthcare savings account hiccup.

Without going into details, it made sense to upgrade them.

I’m glad I did, but I now wish I’d upgraded them “to the max”.

Let me explain.

The key number that drives hearing aid performance is number of channels.

If you’ve looked at a hearing test, you see a curve of how good (or how bad) your hearing is in each frequency – from high frequencies (my young daughter and where my hearing is worst) to low frequencies – bass drums and those super loud cars you hear shaking your windows as they drive down the street. Usually, hearing loss isn’t uniform, it is concentrated in different frequencies.

The audio channels divide that continuous curve up into frequency bins. Separate pieces that are amplified separately. The more pieces, the better the hearing aid matches your hearing loss.

My first hearing aids had 4 channels. My new ones have 12 – three times more. The top end hearing aids that I’ve seen have 20.

20 channels – what does that mean?

Now, I have growing kids, so we’re in a world of Legos now. But, if you have toddlers, or have to buy gifts for little kids, there is are big blocks called “Mega blocks”. These are super sized plastic blocks with the standard block around 6 inches long. Then, as your kids get older, you move up to “Duplos” at around 2 inch standard block, then “Legos” at around 1 inch.

More channels are kind of like moving from Megablocks to Duplos than Legos.

If you are trying to build “Hogwarts”, with lots of detail, you want Legos, if you want to build a big stack of blocks, Megablocks work fine.

Hearing detail comes from the channels.

When I really felt this when I upgraded my hearing aids.

While I like music, I am no hardcore audiophile.

When I changed from 4 channels to 12 channels, all of a sudden, I could hear a ton of extra detail… and that is when I’m listening to Johnny Cash in my car with my kids. Not Bach in a concert hall or quiet room.

The extra channels allows the hearing aids to much more closely match your actual hearing loss – that curve that they show you.

While a magnifying glass can help you see, – prescription glasses are a lot better.

More channels give you a much, much better prescription.

Going from 4 channels to 12 is three times better. Going to 20 is 5 times better… or 5 times more accurate.

And those channels are really the difference in the cost of hearing aids.

They drive the cost of the computer chip (actually a Digital Signal Processing Chip – DSP)…more channels, more power… and all of the rest of the features follow. It is not like glasses where they are actually customized, they are like a computer where all of the differences are in the power, the peripherals, and the programming.

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