hearing care

One of the main barriers to accessing hearing care is affordability, with the cost of prescription hearing aids ranging from $1,000 to $4,000. A new collaboration between UnitedHealthcare Hearing and AARP aims to make them easier on the pocket.

UnitedHealthcare Hearing is part of UnitedHealthcare and has a network of more than 7,000 hearing providers across the nation. AARP, meanwhile, is a nonprofit serving about 38 million members who are at least 50 years old.

Through the partnership, which was announced last week, AARP members can purchase prescription and over-the-counter hearing aids through UnitedHealthcare Hearing. AARP Members — even if they’re not covered by UnitedHealthcare — can buy prescription hearing aids starting at $699, as well as receive a complimentary hearing test and hearing aid consultation from the payer’s network of hearing providers.

AARP members can also receive virtual care and a 15% discount on hearing care products, including hearing accessories and assistive listening devices. Additionally, they can receive a year of follow-up care with a provider for no added cost.

Those seeking the program’s services can start by going to AARP Hearing Solutions’ website. They begin with an online hearing test, select how they want to receive care and see a hearing provider, who can help them decide which products are best for them.

The program is able to sell these hearing aids at a low cost because it serves such a large group of people, said Dave Falda, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Hearing.

“As one of the nation’s largest providers of hearing aids, we have the opportunity to leverage economies of scale and have established strategic relationships with key manufacturers and care providers to offer members such affordable prices,” Falda said.

UnitedHealthcare Hearing has been around for over a decade, providing care to its own members. Working with AARP allows it to expand its services, Falda said.

“We just simply have an opportunity to help more people,” he said in an interview. “Hearing unfortunately affects millions of people and it’s been reported that a large portion of people for whatever reason are unable or not pursuing hearing care.”

Indeed, about 13% of all adults and 27% of adults aged 65 and older have difficulty hearing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hearing loss is linked to higher rates of dementia, depression and fall injuries, the University of Michigan reported.

Greg Marion, AARP services senior vice president of health products and services, described the partnership with UnitedHealthcare and the “exclusive pricing” for OTC products as a game changer. 

“AARP members will benefit from access to UnitedHealthcare Hearing’s expansive network of hearing centers and its commitment to providing quality hearing care,” Marion said in a statement.

Photo: PIKSEL, Getty Images

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When Yes Hearing CEO Sam Shear’s grandparents began to experience major hearing loss in 2018, it left him with a few realizations. First, he discovered hearing loss is extremely isolating. Second, it leads to declining health in other areas, like dementia and depression. Lastly, accessing hearing care is immensely confusing and difficult.

This ultimately led him to starting New York-based Yes Hearing in 2019. The startup sells prescription hearing aids and provides in-home and telehealth audiology services across all 50 states. 

Hearing aids are really only half of the battle — hearing care is so much more than that. Yes Hearing offers an in-home service that provides the knowledge and counseling required to increase the actual usage of hearing aids. This leads to long-term health benefits beyond just hearing, including communication, mobility, dementia prevention and more,” Shear wrote in an email.

After securing $10 million in Series A funding, Yes Hearing will work to grow its services, it announced last week. The funding round was led by Blue Heron Capital and included participation from Primetime Partners, Ensemble Innovation Ventures, Maccabee Ventures and Gaingels. In total, the company has raised $13.5 million.

Blue Heron Capital chose to invest in Yes Hearing because of its work in bringing hearing care to the home, said Tom Bendetti, managing partner of the firm.

“The team has created a better delivery model that bridges the gap between the need for care and access to better in-home healthcare,” Bendetti said in a news release. “The benefits of moving professional healthcare services into the home setting are vast, from delivering higher-quality, personalized, and professional care to providing patients with an increased feeling of independence, safety, comfort, and convenience, greater levels of satisfaction, and ultimately better outcomes.”

Yes Hearing will use the funds to grow its direct-to-consumer offerings, as well as improve education on hearing loss, Shear said.

“Our plans include the development of technology like a telehealth portal for patients, a portal for our care providers, and patient-provider matching initiatives,” Shear stated. “We’ll also be driving brand expansion, focusing on improving education and awareness of hearing loss and hearing care accessibility options.”

The hearing care startup sells directly to consumers. Those who are seeking its services can start with a free phone consultation, where they’ll receive recommendations based on their needs. They can also browse Yes Hearing’s website for its hearing products. Once they decide on a hearing aid, a specialist from the company will hand deliver the product. The hearing aid purchase includes an in-home hearing aid test and 60 days of follow-up care. After those 60 days, patients can subscribe to ongoing care, which can cost between $299 to $659 a year.

Yes Hearing currently only sells prescription hearing aids, but in the future may sell over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, which just became available October 17.

“We’re currently working solely with prescription devices — but we will be continually assessing the OTC product range as more data becomes available,” Shear said. “As the OTC devices and technology becomes more widely tested, reviewed, and used by consumers, if there is a product that we believe can add benefit to our patients, we will absolutely move to make them a part of our overarching offering.”

Other hearing care and hearing aid companies include Tuned, Soundly and Eargo.

Photo: PIKSEL, Getty Images

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