Free Hearing Aids
Many senior citizens could benefit from hearing aids, but cost is a big barrier. A senior may end up spending several thousand dollars on just one hearing aid. Getting two could mean spending close to $10,000. So, it’s natural to wonder if you can get free hearing aids. The good news first: You may be able to, especially if you’re diligent and willing to wait a while. Now for the bad news: Free hearing aids are more of the exception than the rule. However, there are several low-cost or affordable options.
Possibilities for Free Hearing Aids
Seniors have these potential avenues for free hearing aids:
- Their insurer
- Medicare Advantage
- Medicaid in many states
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Vocational rehabilitation
- National groups and foundations
- Local agencies and programs
- Hearing aid manufacturers
Let’s look at each possibility.
Many insurance companies don’t cover hearing aids, but some do. Those that do tend to have restrictions. For example, the insurer might pay for only one pair of hearing aids, period (no matter if the senior uses that policy for 25 years and needs a new pair). In some cases, married senior spouses may each be eligible for insurance coverage with different insurers. Explore whether your spouse’s insurer covers hearing aids. If so, switching may be worth it.
Important note: The states of Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire and Rhode Island require that private insurers offer hearing aid coverage for adults (children, too).
Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B) doesn’t cover hearing aids, but some Medicare Advantage plans do. Medicare Advantage is also called Plan C, and many premiums are low-cost or no-cost. However, no-penalty enrollment windows are restricted.
Medicaid in Many States
This guide explains whether your state might provide seniors with free hearing aids via its Medicaid program(s). For example, California covers hearing aids when prescribed, hearing exams, and hearing aid repair and replacement. It doesn’t cover the cost of hearing aid batteries.
Other states that may cover hearing aids for senior citizens include Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Department of Veterans Affairs
Veterans or service members receiving health care benefits through VA may be able to get free hearing aids. If you’re not yet receiving benefits, look into signing up to begin getting them. Here’s more information on if you may be eligible.
Next, you visit the Audiology and Speech Pathology Clinic. If you need hearing aids, they’ll be provided for free.
Working seniors can sometimes get free or lower-cost hearing aids from vocational rehabilitation, or VR. They need to show that they could lose their job because of their hearing loss.
National Groups and Foundations
Several national programs work to help seniors (and folks of other ages) get free hearing aids. In some cases, the application fee is more than $100—so these aids aren’t exactly free. Seniors should be certain they qualify before applying. The programs include the following:
Local Agencies and Programs
Your audiologist can be a powerful resource, pointing you toward local agencies and programs that provide seniors with free or low-cost hearing aids.
The Hearing Aid Project has a list of state-by-state resources. One of them may be able to lead you to a local program for free hearing aids.
Hearing Aid Manufacturers
Hearing aids undergo testing before they’re released for sale. Senior citizens who get in touch with hearing aid manufacturers may be able to receive free hearing aids. That’s if they’re willing to participate in a clinical trial for hearing aids in development. Major manufacturers include Phonak, Oticon, Starkey, ReSound, Signia, Widex, Sonic and Unitron. While this method succeeds for some people, it’s a long shot.
Low-Cost or Affordable Options
It can be frustrating if you don’t qualify for free hearing aids. Perhaps your income is just a bit too high or your hearing loss not quite severe enough. Whatever the case, a low-cost or affordable option might prove helpful.
Hearing Aid Options
Many seniors like Costco for its lower-cost hearing aids. In fact, the VA and Costco are the two largest suppliers of hearing aids in the United States. The price of Costco hearing aids depends on the particular store and state, but seniors should be able to get a pair of Kirkland signature aids for about $1,500. Name-brand hearing aids are available starting at about $1,300 per aid (not per pair). Hearing tests, cleanings, checkups, follow-up appointments and the like are free.
Audient offers a program that gets affordable hearing aids to some seniors. It focuses on low-income households.
Meanwhile, AARP has the Hearing Care program that features discounts on hearing aid accessories, assistive listening devices and other items. Seniors can get 20% off regular hearing aids. Unfortunately, these hearing aid prices aren’t available online. You have to call a 1-800 number, which can make comparisons take a while.
If you’re well-versed in online shopping, then purchasing hearing aids online could be something you feel comfortable with. You can often get aids for a lower price through online retailers such as Audicus or Eargo. You may not have to go to an audiologist for a hearing test and follow-ups. Before you buy from online retailers, make sure they have trial periods. Find out about their refunds and returns policies.
You can also check out this list of state-by-state resources (also printed above in the “free” section). One of these resources could direct you to a place for low-cost or discounted aids. Also contact your local Area Agency on Aging. Further, this guide from the Hearing Industries Association gives a list of organizations and services for hearing aids.
In 2020, over-the-counter hearing aids will become available, with Bose leading the way. These aids are supposed to be much more affordable than hearing aids traditionally have been. The hearing aids will be self-fitted and for people with mild to moderate levels of hearing loss. In many states, seniors won’t need to get an audiologist’s permission first or have follow-up appointments.
Non-Hearing Aid Options
Your state may have a telephone program that improves your phone access and phone experience. For example, California accepts applications for free specialized phones that help seniors with hearing loss.
Meanwhile, some seniors turn to personal sound amplification products such as Bose’s Hearphones. These products are not hearing aids, and those on the low end of the quality spectrum can actually damage seniors’ hearing. However, the Hearphones (about $500) generally get raves. Many seniors who have experience with hearing aids actually prefer the Hearphones. The Hearphones are similar in many ways, including appearance, to the upcoming Bose hearing aids.
The Hearphones may help seniors better understand conversations, especially in noisy environments, and enjoy TV and music more. Each earbud features two directional microphones, and seniors can use a smartphone app to customize their Hearphone settings.
If you are or have been connected to the military, check out the Retiree Assistive Listening Devices (RALD) program. It’s for retired and active-duty military service members as well as their families. You may be able to purchase assistive listening devices at a discounted price and get customized support on the telephone.
Cost as a Barrier to Entry
There’s no doubt that cost is what keeps a good number of seniors from wearing hearing aids. Of course, there are ways to get them for free, especially for low-income seniors. However, they can require a lot of legwork and family support. Hopefully, the new Bose hearing aids will be priced similarly to the Hearphones.