As an Audiologist, my patients often don’t realise the funding options available to them when it comes to buying a hearing aid. This article will explore the various funding options available (both public and private) in Australia as of 2019 as well as 10 practical ways to save money on hearing aids.
If you are a child aged 0 to 25 years of age or are an aged pensioner, the Australian Government provides funding towards hearing aids when there is a clinical need through their Hearing Services Program. This funding is also available to people belonging to other categories as you will see below.
Children will generally have access to additional funding for more advanced hearing aids as well as aged pensioner with additional or more complex needs. This additional funding also comes from the Australian Government as part of its Community Service Obligations (CSO).
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) used to help with the funding of hearing aids in very specific situations. As of about 2012, DVA abolished this funding but still provides access to assistive listening devices that are on their approved list of devices (RAPTOR). These devices complement hearing aids and are available to DVA Gold or DVA White (hearing specific) card holders.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will help with hearing aid funding if it is deemed clinically necessary and appropriate in relation to an individual’s NDIS plan. Compensation due to industrial deafness through State run WorkCover can provide funding for hearing aids among other things.
Medicare does not fund hearing aids in Australia.
As well as these public funding options, there are a number of privately funded solutions available too.
Keep reading this post as we explore each avenue in more detail.
Different Public Funding Option
The first way to be able to access public funding in Australia towards hearing aids is to be an Australian Citizen or Permanent Resident. Once you have ticked this off, there are a few more hoops to get through before tax payer funding can be accessed.
1. Australian Government’s Hearing Services Voucher Program
The Australian Government’s Hearing Services Program which is administered by the Office of Hearing Services resides within the Department of Health. By far the largest proportion of hearing aids fitted in Australia each year comes from hearing aids funded through this program. In the 2017-18 financial year, it provided funding towards a whopping 404,912 hearing aids. 733,400 pensioners and other eligible clients benefited from this program in 2017-18 and the numbers continue grow. This is partly due to Australia’s ageing population but also because more and more people are learning about the importance and benefits of treating a hearing loss sooner rather than later.
See also: Benefits of treating a hearing loss.
To access this program you need to belong to one of the following categories below:
This program doesn’t just provide funding towards hearing aids but also pays for the associated Audiological consulting time, hearing aid maintenance costs and in some circumstances, assistive listening devices.
To qualify for a hearing aid under this scheme, the hearing loss in the specific ear must meet the following criteria:
If this criteria is not met, the program still provides the options of a hearing aid if:
In all cases, the patient must have good motivation to get a hearing aid. These schemes provides the patient around $500 in funding per hearing aid which is enough to fully fund a basic hearing aid. This device will generally suit most patients but if it not suitable then you can use the funding towards better technology and just pay the gap payment. You can also use your private health insurance (see below) to help defray the cost of this gap payment.
If you would like to access this program through Pristine Hearing, just follow the 3 simple steps found here.
2. Community Services Obligation (CSO)
The Office of Hearing Services provides additional funding for patients who have complex needs. This extra funding goes towards better hearing aids, fully subsidised remote microphone technology and more specialised audiological care. At this stage, a patient can only access this additional funding at Australian Hearing although this may change in the not too distant future. To qualify for this additional funding, you must meet the following criteria:
3. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA)
As mentioned above, DVA no longer provides funding towards hearing aids. However, DVA Gold and DVA White (hearing specific) card holders can access the Australian Government’s Hearing Services Program. This cohort of patients also has access to additional funding to help fund the full costs of various assistive listening devices such as the following:
Most devices need prior approval by DVA before they can be provided by your Audiologist. Your Audiologist must demonstrate to DVA that there is a clinical need for any device they approve. There are exceptions to this rule for DVA Gold Card holders only who do not require prior approval for say TV ALDs, smoke alarms (must have a severe hearing loss in the better ear) and doorbells. There are restrictions on how often these devices can be replaced under the scheme. Unfortunately, telephones specifically designed for the hearing impaired are not included.
4. National Disability Insurance Scheme
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (aka NDIS) is a national funding scheme for individuals with a disability that impacts their ability to participate in everyday activities including work. A person can become a participant of the NDIS if they have not yet reached the age of 65. This scheme has progressively rolled out all across Australia since 2013 and should have reached most places by July 2019.
Once you become an NDIS participant, most people are amazed by the flexibility of the funding that is provided. Each participant must have a plan created with a NDIS planner that specifies what supports and help a person requires to reduce the impact of their disability. Now as long as the service or device is deemed necessary and appropriate for this person in relation to their NDIS plan, then NDIS will technically fund it. In the context of hearing impairment, NDIS could help fund hearing aids, accessories, assistive device & appointments.
So how does one apply to become a participant for the NDIS I hear you ask?
If hearing loss is your only disability, you can access NDIS funding through one of three criteria:
To apply, you must fill out an Access Request Form which you can get from your local NDIA office or by calling 1800 800 110. You will need to provide age and residency evidence.
If in doubt or you need clarification, call NDIS on 1800 800 110.
Medicare (Not a Funding Option for Hearing Aids)
Medicare in Australia does not fund hearing aids but will contribute to the cost of hearing assessments performed by an Audiologist when requested by an ENT, neurologist, paediatrician and GP under specific situations which may include:
If you have sustained a hearing loss due to noise exposure at work, you may be entitled to compensation as a lump sum, weekly payment or to pay for the cost of hearing aids. Each State regulates work injury compensation claims including those associated with a hearing loss through their WorkCover body.
Since the early 1990’s, it has become compulsory for employers to arrange baseline hearing tests for all workers working in a ‘prescribed place’. A prescribed place is any work area that exposes a worker to the equivalent of 90dB(A) of noise over an 8 hour period. For every 3dB increase the equivalent noise exposure period is halved. An example could be a worker who works in 96dB(A) of noise for a period of 2 hours as we need to half 8 hours twice.
Employers who don’t comply could be fined up to $2000 but can vary depending on the jurisdiction. To help with the accuracy of any claims brought forward, WorkCover requires that only accredited and approved hearing testers, of which Pristine Hearing is one, are allowed to conduct the hearing tests.
If you feel that your hearing problems are work related and you work in a prescribed place, I would organise a hearing test. Each state has it’s own procedures so please call your own State’s WorkCover outfit for more details.
Different Private Funding Options
Now that we have looked at and exhausted all the publicly funded avenues available in Australia to fund hearing aids, lets look at the private options.
6. Private Health Insurance
Some (not all) health funds provide funding towards hearing aids (up to $1000 per device), hearing assessments and hearing aid repairs. If you have a hearing loss and are likely going to need hearing aids, it would be worth shopping around for the best health insurance that provides the most for your audiology needs.
The Independent Audiologists Australia (an organisation Pristine Hearing belongs to) does research every year and summarises the funding each health fund provides for hearing aids and hearing services. The latest version is available here. Use this as a guide only as the federal Government legislated for all health funds to simplify their products and as such, different levels and what they provide will have changed.
Things to consider when looking at health funds for audiology benefits
7. Insurance for Lost, Damaged or Stolen Hearing Aids
Millions of hearing aids every year get stolen, lost or damaged. They are expensive devices that should carry some level of insurance for the wearers piece of mind. At the end of the day they are quite small devices and can be easily misplaced, driven over or flushed down the toilet. Unfortunately, this is an ever so frequent story I hear from my patients.
Luckily most of them had placed their hearing aids on their home & contents insurance so were able to replace their lost or damaged hearing aid fully funded by their insurance company.
However, it is important to look at the fine print. Not all insurance companies cover hearing aids that are lost, damaged or stolen outside of the home. A lot of hearing aids are lost when a patient needs to go in hospital. They are often just brushed aside and forgotten about.
A dedicated hearing aid insurance company has entered the market call HearInsur. They cover hearing aids regardless of where the loss or damage occur. For more information about HearInsur and why they could be a good and cheap option for your piece of mind, see their website here.
See also: Should I have my hearing aids insured?
8. Interest Free Payment Options
In the era of ‘buy now, pay later’ payment options, the hearing aid industry is only just catching up. Most audiology clinics will provide some form or interest free payment option to make it easier for a patient to purchase hearing aids without having to fork out a lump sum of money. Pristine Hearing uses Zipmoney with a 6 month interest free term which our patients find is enough time to spread out their payments into more manageable bite sized pieces.
Those who have difficulty paying for hearing aids may be able to access money from their superannuation early. This is dependent on your super fund so best to talk to them before going down this pathway. You will usually require a recent hearing test from an audiologist (nothing older than 6 months) as well as a quote for the recommended hearing aids. For more information about this, please visit here.
10. Personal Loan
Another option to finance hearing aids is to get a personal loan. A personal loan will incur interest although the cost of hearing aid can be spread over years instead of upfront. Definitely shop around and seek financial advice before going down this pathway.
11. Interest Free or Low Interest Credit Cards
Although we would recommend thinking carefully before acquiring a credit card facility, it is possible to obtain new credit cards with an interest free (or low interest period). This may be a better solution than a personal loan if you are able to pay off the credit card during this period. Please seek financial advice or do your own research if choosing this option.
12. Tax Rebates
Although not a funding option per se, some individuals may be able to use the net cost of hearing aids as a deductible purchase. Eligibility criteria applies and this may change from year to year. We recommend speaking with an Accountant for advice as to what is claimable and who is eligible.
13. Hearing Aid Banks
If private funding is not possible, you may qualify for FREE or heavily subsidised new or preloved hearing aids from a hearing aid bank. Most states in Australia have a hearing aid bank that provides hearing services and devices at little or no cost for individuals in financial issues. They usually have specific criteria that needs to be met in order to qualify. For more information about hearing aid banks and to find out if there is one near you, visit our blog post discussing this very topic here.
Ways to save on hearing aids
From my dealings with thousands of patients over the years, I would like to share 9 tips or ways to ensure your experience with an Audiologist is the very best it could be so that you can save money on your hearing aids.
1. Do not go to an Audiologist who belongs to a chain of Audiology Clinics as more than likely they are owned by a hearing aid manufacturer. This means you only have access to one brand of hearing aid and this may not necessarily be the best for you. Audiologists in this kind of clinic usually work with sales commissions so are lured to recommend you more expensive hearing aids than you may actually need. Read here for more information about how hearing aid sales commissions can unnecessarily inflate the cost of hearing aids.
2. Go and see an audiologist who works for an independent audiology clinic that is a member of Independent Audiologists Australia. They have a list of clinics that don't offer their staff sales commission for hearing aid sales and must abide by ethical and professional standards. Pristine Hearing is an Independent Audiology Clinic but you can find more here.
3. Trial the recommended hearing aids before committing to them. Have your Audiologist assess your performance with the recommended hearing aids in say noise and compare this to your performance with more basic hearing aids in the same environment. You may be surprised by the results. Most clinics will let you trial the hearing in the appointment, at home for the day or some may even allow a week trial. We do all.
4. Get your Audiologist to provide the rationale behind a hearing aid recommendation – you need to know why say a less expensive hearing aid was not recommended and why. What specific features are being promoted and why. If your Audiologist cannot explain to you why they have recommended certain hearing aids to a level that you are satisfied with, go elsewhere. If your Audiologist explains how one hearing aid will help you perform better in noise but hasn’t actually tested, you in noise – go elsewhere.
5. Some Audiology Clinics offer discounts when you trade in your existing pair of hearing aids. Pristine Hearing provide up to $500 per hearing aid for patients wanting to upgrade. We use these preloved hearing aids in our Hearing Aid Bank.
6. Some Audiology Clinics offer to price match or even beat competitor prices by up to 5%. Be careful with this as there may be other associated costs for the actual appointments to set the hearing aids up and to make sure they are meeting your needs. Factor all this in when considering where to go. Pristine Hearing is happy to beat competitors’ prices when they are located in the same state as us.
7. Some clinics will either provide an bundled vs unbundled pricing strategy. With a bundled price, the hearing aids and service required to set them up as well as additional appointments are all included in the price. In an unbundled pricing strategy, the price of the hearing aid is isolated from the cost associated with the service or clinical time. Unbundled pricing is better as you can see the actual cost of the hearing aid and only pay for the appointments you need. With bundling, you will often have to pay for appointments you don’t need. For more information about unbundled pricing, visit here.
8. It would be good to get a quote for recommended hearing aids from up to 3 clinics to get a feel for what they are worth or being sold elsewhere. Make sure to ask whether this is the bundled price or the unbundled price. Although price in important, you need to remember that without the guidance of a University Trained Audiologist, you will never meet you hearing potential. You need to feel comfortable with the Audiologist and have a good rapport.
9. You also need to factor in the full service that the clinic will provide you. Will you be able to get batteries, hearing aid repairs and other consumables when you need them? How long do you need to wait for an appointment? Do you need to physically come to the clinic or can they come to you? Pristine Hearing offers quick appointments to address patients’ concerns and are also able to come to your home or nursing home. We even offer late or after work appointments and Sunday appointments.
10. Ultimately even though you are the patient, you shouldn’t just accept what the Audiologist says. Yes, they are the expert in terms of measuring your hearing and matching you up with what they think is the best hearing aid/s for you. But you are the expert in what difficulties you are having, what goals or priorities you have, what you are comfortable with and what you can afford. Audiologists who include you in the decision making process are to be trusted and commended.
If you have any specific questions about this post or anything else, feel free to ask. Just fill out the form below or call 08 6336 7170 today.
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Michael is a very thorough and experienced Audiologist who takes pride in ensuring his patients are listened to, valued, respected and achieve the best results possible. He has worked as a Senior Audiologist seeing a broad case load from young infants right up to complex adults who require more specialised audiological care and management. Apart from Audiology, Michael has a Bachelor in Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics from The University of Melbourne. When you see Michael for a consultation, you will wonder why you never saw him sooner.