What would it be like to lease hearing aids, instead of buying them? Topping up at $6000 a pair, hearing aids are often the third largest purchase a person with hearing loss makes in their lifetime, after only a house and a car. In the case of a car or a house, rental options are plentiful. Can’t afford to buy a house? Rent an apartment instead. Don’t want to purchase a car? Leasing options are available, often at quite attractive rates. According to Edmunds, auto lease penetration in the United States hit 32.2% in May 2019. This was a new record since reporting began in 2002.
What if we could do the same with our hearing aids?
Would You Prefer to Lease Your Hearing Aids?
The growing popularity of auto leasing makes sense to me. You get the benefits of ownership without putting all the money down. You enjoy the use of the car while you pay over time. Leases also often include regular maintenance and if something breaks or goes wrong, repairs are usually covered too. For time consuming repairs, a replacement car may be provided. After a few years, your lease ends and you are free to swap into a newer model with all the latest bells, whistles, and safety features. Or you can choose a different brand of car altogether. You have ultimate flexibility.
What if you could do this with hearing aids? Yes, hearing aids are different from cars and houses for many reasons, but as the hearing aid industry evolves and new entrants emerge, leasing may be worth considering. Below I examine some pros and challenges. Please add your thoughts in the comments.
Hearing aids are often custom fit.
Hearing aids are highly personal items, often custom-made to fit your specific ear — especially those worn in the ear canal. This could make them hard to repurpose for another user. Offsetting this, is the growing popularity of open-fit behind-the-ear models. Even when used with custom ear molds, the behind-the-ear devices are fairly standard and could likely be repurposed for another user quite easily.
Complexity may temper ease of upgrade.
Hearing aids are highly sophisticated devices, programmed to meet your specific hearing challenges. Things sound differently through each pair of hearing aids, so it often takes time and energy to get used to them. Swapping to a new pair every 2-3 years may not be desirable. Hearing loss can also change over time, making a different type or brand of device more appropriate. This would make the flexibility of a lease attractive, but it could also add complexity if the lease was tied to a particular manufacturer.
Industry structure would need updating.
Currently, a used hearing aid market does not exist, so what would happen to all the returned devices? Who would bear the cost? Audiologists? Hearing aid manufacturers? Given the high price of hearing aids, a used-device option — assuming the devices can be reprogrammed and updated with fresh molds — could be an exciting new market. Perhaps it would attract reluctant hearing aid users who shy away due to cost. Used hearing aids could also make attractive back-up or entry-level devices that could better compete on price with over-the-counter hearing aid options.
Alternative Hearing Aid Purchase Models Already Exist
While rare, a few alternative hearing aid purchase models do currently exist. For example, Phonak’s Lyric hearing aids are sold as a subscription, although the “rental” is paid annually and the cost often compares to buying a new device. Audicus, an online hearing aid company, offers a “membership model” option. Users pay a nominal monthly fee which entitles them to hearing aids, batteries, insurance and the ability to upgrade to new devices every 18 months. I have no knowledge about the quality of the Audicus devices or the company’s service, but the selling model itself is intriguing. Another new entrant, Whisper, recently launched a subscription model product that includes ongoing care from a local audiologist, regular software upgrades and a 3-year warranty. Perhaps there are other examples as well.
Covid-19 has transformed many aspects of audiological care. Over-the-counter and Hearables devices are likely to bring additional changes. Some audiologists also already offer financing options for purchased hearing aids. With all the innovation afoot, could it be time for the industry to consider a leasing model option as well?
Readers, would you consider leasing your hearing aids instead of purchasing them?