Granville Y. Brady Jr., AuD, took an entire page to essentially tell us nothing new in his editorial, “Have Bargains Replaced Best Practices?” (HJ 2012;65:2; http://bit.ly/BradyEditorial.) If Dr. Brady and his pals were really concerned with Internet sales of hearing instruments or mail-order hearing instruments by insurance companies, he would take the lead in a massive lawsuit against the people involved who are breaking federal and state laws. He would demand that the US Food & Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission get involved. Some of the world's largest hearing aid manufacturers are co-conspirators in this racket. They claim to know nothing, but their hearing aids keep showing up in my office on people who bought them on the Internet.
Dr. Brady also failed to address the middlemen who stand between the insurance companies, their patients, and us, directing hearing aid sales to specific vendors who have financial arrangements with either the insurance companies or the middlemen. Wasn't that a nice little deal AARP had going with a large (now bankrupt) Florida operation? I've seen folks whose nearest provider is hundreds of miles away, thus discouraging them from getting hearing aids. I have filed complaints with state insurance regulators in an attempt to halt these practices, but my complaints fall on deaf ears (pardon the pun).
Some blame President Obama for all this, but it started several years ago and continues to grow. If insurance providers would allow their clients to choose a hearing healthcare professional willing to do the job at a negotiated price, that would be fine. But must we have a third party in the mix taking a piece of the action, thus driving up the cost of services?
Finally, on the subject of “cost of services,” Dr. Brady conveniently forgot to mention that, as an industry, we may be pricing ourselves out of the marketplace. People come into my office telling me they had been quoted as much as $8,000 or more for a pair of hearing aids. Good grief! No wonder the Internet is so appealing. Maybe some of us need to get a grip on our greed.
Richard D. Manuel, BC-HIS
Green Valley, AZ
Dr. Brady responds:
The writer brings up some valid points. If every licensed hearing healthcare professional called upon manufacturers that supply Internet companies or compete in the retail market to cease and desist, perhaps they would get the idea that we are serious about not buying from our competition. Unfortunately, the Federal Trade Commission's regulations prevent professional associations from advocating boycotts, but people are free to make up their minds about which companies they want to supply them with products. Individual measures can be worth more than a class action suit.
As for the health insurance industry's practice of funneling patients to preferred providers, this might not be a problem when President Obama cuts out the Medicare Advantage plans that offer hearing aid benefits. The day after the election, healthcare stocks plummeted. We can only hope that these “middlemen” will be driven out of the marketplace when bogus loss leader Medicare policies are banned from the health insurance industry. A few states have “any willing provider” laws that allow patients to choose anyone willing and qualified to offer services.
I completely agree that some companies are charging too much for their hearing aids but internal market forces, not the Internet will hopefully prevail. Nonmedical hearing healthcare is our responsibility and we should not be victimized by outside forces whether they are hearing aid manufacturers, health insurers, or the public.