Scams have been around since the dawn of time. Humans will always have that inner voice: "I will find a cheaper way", "I can find a better way", "I will make this one work this time", "This one will cost me x-dollars less", "This is the one". Scammers are more than happy to satisfy and exploit this human trait. One must face the fact that scams will be around forever.
The internet is a hearing aid scam artist's dream come true. They can mass-market with targeted ads on Facebook and other social media, email, Amazon, Ebay, Google search result ads, even search results themselves. They play on the enticement of human nature, and voilą, their "fishing and hunting games" begin. These ads, products, promises, lures, demonstrations, videos and tactics evolve and change so rapidly that it's impossible for the FDA and FTC to keep up with, or even for us to keep up with a list. So just be aware and ignore that natural human urge that can make us such easy targets. It is up to each individual to know not to step into such traps. Remember "Buyer Beware"? Also, don't be surprised if you start to encounter such products in magazine ads, sponsored magazine articles, TV advertisements, TV infomercials, TV shopping networks, in your mailbox, in retail stores & pharmacies & electronics stores, via telemarketers over the phone, and perhaps even in TV show plugs and movie plugs. Believe it or not, even insurance companies and name brand hearing aid manufacturers are joining this trend, and are offering lower grade off-the-shelf hearing devices for a quick profit. Some of the creative names for off-the-shelf hearing devices are: Over-The-Counter (OTC) hearing aids, Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) hearing aids, Mail Order hearing aids, Self-Fitting Hearing Aids, the terms or names may vary depending on the marketing style for the product or the target market, so be aware. Your hearing is much more complicated and requires much more care than these sellers are willing to acknowledge or understand - or care. It is up to you to not fall for marketing ploys.
And then there are those full-size newspaper ads or direct mailers from national hearing aid franchises. The ones with coupons for a percentage off, an enticing dollar amount off, a low priced hearing aid that can help almost no-one, or a free gift card for coming in. All intended to get you in the door so the commission-based representative can start working on you. Sometimes you still see their ads with the overused "We Need 30 People" trick. Well guess what... need we say more?
It can get very confusing. The best recommendation is to find a local, well established hearing care provider in your area. Make sure the hearing care provider you choose is Board Certified. A thorough, professional hearing evaluation is a must, as your prescription has to match exactly, and is based on much more than just the curves of an audiogram. Then, once your exact prescription is found, the individual combination of quality microcircuits and components inside the hearing aids allow for that prescription to help you hear clearly, comfortably and as close to normal as your body still allows. Custom shells that are made to fit the exact contours of your individual ears are recommended for best results. You need to know that you will likely have to visit your hearing care provider several times for fine-tunings after you receive your hearing aids. This is because as you encounter sounds around you in your everyday life, your unique sense of comfort will be different than that of someone else, and your hearing aids can be fine-tuned for that (that's a good thing). After just a few visits, the various fine-tunings throughout the frequency spectrum of the hearing aids will have created a nice balance for you to be comfortable in most any sound environments. Don't forget that your ears naturally produce cerumen (earwax), and this earwax and moisture (yes, the ear is a warm, moist environment) can affect the hearing aids over time. Your hearing care provider will professionally clean your hearing aids periodically, and make any adjustments during this time if necessary. And you don't want to wait 7 days or more to get an appointment when your hearing aid acts up. You also don't want to have to drive 30 minutes in traffic, nor do you want to pay $60 per office visit every time you have a problem, because let's face it, how many times would you actually go then. So finding a reputable hearing care provider who is nearby and who you can trust is very important. If the hearing care provider has walk-in office hours, even better! Reputable hearing care providers stand by their work and most provide free cleanings and adjustments for the life of their hearing aids, much like most orthodontists will have you come in at no additional charge for adjustments or whenever there is an issue with their braces.
Lastly, we need to discuss the elephant in the room. Insurance companies are in the business of selling insurance plans. Every year around the open enrollment period, there is a feeding frenzy of advertising especially for medicare advantage plans. Why? Because the federal government pays insurance companies thousands of dollars for every medicare advantage member that company has. And if the company can increase the "risk score" of as many members as possible (meaning find certain health conditions of their members) the company can get thousands more from the government for each member with higher risk score levels. So enticing extra perceived benefits helps insurance companies in their advertising campaigns to attract as many members as possible. In order to advertise that they have hearing aid benefits (we've all seen those annoying TV ads to "get the benefits you deserve!"), they have to figure out ways to provide some benefit for hearing aids without breaking the bank. Notice very few of them actually volunteer information about what these hearing benefits actually are. In some cases, it's a set dollar amount toward hearing aids (usually a few hundred to around a thousand dollars). In other cases, it's a very limited choice of pre-selected discount hearing aids which may cost you around $1000 each, out of pocket - but you can only get those specific ones from a specific provider who has agreed to become a participating provider (and has signed a 'non-disclosure-for-life/non-disparagement-for-life' agreement that protects the insurace company's reputation) in order to dispense these for the insureance company. In return, the providers who have signed such contracts get a "referral fee" for their services -- actually, a "referral fee" from a third party company who has contracted with the insurance company. So the insurance company ends up having nothing to do with their own 'hearing aid benefit' other than having the ability to advertise that you get hearing aid benefits with their plan. Really??? Yeah, I know... Call your insurance yourself and you'll see. If they say you need to call a different toll-free number for your hearing aid benefit, then you are a lucky winner of one of these plans. Most likely you will be calling a company in Utah and they will refer you to the nearest participating provider who has signed such a contract with them. You will then be offered only a very small selection of pre-selected cheaper hearing aids (in some cases no real choice at all) and 2 follow-up visits, and will be charged your "discounted insurance benefits fee for covered hearing aids" of around $2,000. After that each office visit is up to $65 including any cleaning and adjustment visits, not covered by that insurance plan (it only covered for the pre-determined price for pre-selected cheaper hearing aids and the first couple of follow-up visits). With those cheaper hearing aids, how many more office visits do you think you will need over the course of several months, or several years? In some cases, this "benefit" is available every year. So if after 2 or 3 months of trying you complain that these hearing aids are not satisfactory, they can tell you that you can use your benefit again next year and buy something else then (for another $2000 or so), and they make it seem like it's good news. Everybody profits, at whose expense? Other insurance companies have come up with "virtual visits", where they have you purchase "off the shelf hearing aids" from that insurance company's own "mail order store" and claim they are "custom programmed" for you. Then, once you receive them in the mail you sit by your computer or smartphone and they try to adjust them over the internet so you don't send them back. And after a certain number of times they start charging you for each virtual visit. This is not for your best health interest, it's for the best interest of their profits and their shareholders. They may also claim that you can go visit one of their "credentialed poviders" if you need more help. "Credentialed providers" basically meaning providers who have signed the insurance companies' non-disclosure agreements, a contract that keeps these providers from stating anything negative about these plans and these hearing aids even after the provider chooses not to continue with these programs (or schemes?). And the insurance plans that provide a set dollar amount toward hearing aids, are they any better? Yes and no, because the unintended consequence of these is hearing care providers who will give lower quality hearing aids, lower quality components, or lower quality care to be able to bring their prices down closer to what that insurance plan's benefit is, so they can entice you with a lower out-of-pocket cost than that offered by another (more reputable) hearing care provider. If you fall for this, you may find that you'll have used up your benefit on something that will make you hear louder, but without the clarity or background noise comfort that you desire - when by having added some out-of-pocket cost at a more reputable provider, you could have had your hearing aids made perfectly for your needs. Although these are not scams per-se, you do need to watch out for these and other common corporate practices.
So what is one to do? Find a reputable hearing care provider in your area. If they are not a participating provider for your insurance plan, that may actually be a good thing. It could very well be a sign that they are truly reputable and will not allow a third party to interfere with the professionalism of their care. If your insurance plan allows for reimbursement for care with a non-participating provider, you can get a reimbursement check mailed directly to you from your insurance company several weeks after you receive the proper care you need, and you won't have to deal with any red tape nor nonsense.
So, here is the condensed version:
Once a hearing impaired individual receives the proper care through a professional hearing care provider, with properly tested prescription data and properly made, properly fitted, properly fine-tuned, and properly maintained hearing aids, their whole outlook on life changes. This is why it's so important to get the proper care. Because if not done properly, that individual will most likely give up on getting the help they need after trying through the wrong channels, falsely reasoning that they tried hearing aids and it didn't work out, therefore hearing aids may not work for them. They may try again several years later, after a few more years of suffering, isolation and frustration from the hearing loss, while wrongfully thinking that they already tried years ago and thank God it only cost them a few hundred dollars last time, so not too much money was wasted. In fact what was wasted is several years of frustration in conversations, several years of isolation from loved ones because of the stress and anxiety the hearing loss creates, several years of sadness because conversations turn into arguments caused by the hearing loss. This is what is wasted. And when someone is 70, 80 or 90 years old, wasting several years because of something that can be corrected with the proper professional help, but wasn't done properly, is truly tragic. Please, get the proper help you need and don't fall for their scams or get caught up in their games. Life is too short and too precious to waste by going the wrong route.