Friday, September 9, 2016

Cochlear Implant Equipment – Why Does It Cost So Much To Replace?

By Eric Sherman

When your cochlear implant equipment is no longer under warranty, the cost of replacement parts such as sound cords, headpieces or the processor can seem quite pricey.  Sometimes our health insurance will cover part of the cost, but generally reimbursement for parts can be minuscule to the actual purchase price we pay.  For example, our insurance valued the cost of a $125 sound cord at $11 with our plan and then stated they were only going to reimburse us at 50% of the $11, because our CI manufacturer was not in-network.
To most of us, the replacement costs can seem outrageous even with insurance.  But… are the CI manufactures taking advantage of us just because there is no competition for their unique parts or are there other reasons such as their warranties on equipment; R & D, etc., to justify these higher prices. Depending upon the CI Manufacturer, warranties may be 1-5 years with free replacement on parts or processors and may include shipping.

Additionally, most people accept the idea that a lot of the cost comes from R & D.  CI devices continue to evolve offering better sound quality and new features that enhance the user’s listening experience.  Cochlear implants are medical devices that fall under government regulations. Compliance to these regulations can also add to the expense.  Then you have to look at the total size of the cochlear implant market which adds to costs.  According to the National institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD) as of 2012 there were 324,200 registered cochlear implant recipients worldwide,  and over 58,000 in the US.
I’m sure the numbers have gone up over the last 4 years, but in general terms this would be considered a niche market.  Furthermore, the 3 cochlear implant manufacturers divide up the total CI market making their market share even smaller.  Due to constant changes in technology and new product offerings, existing brand models become a subset of an already small market and thus become a limiting factor to mass produce proprietary items.  With no real aftermarket for replacement parts to sell generic options, people are left to pay the higher price from the manufacturers or search online to purchase parts from another person.  All of these factors seem to play into the higher cost of replacing parts for cochlear implants, but consider the replacement cost when the item is not under warranty. 

Like many families we’ve replaced our son’s processor, sound cords and headpieces numerous times while under warranty.  Most often our daily activities might cause these sensitive devices to fail.  For example, a child is sucking or chewing on their headpiece or sound cord, a processor getting damaged during an activity because of too much moisture from sweat or being knocked off the body.  These sensitive devices will fail and need to be replaced.

Think about this, your smartphone stops working within the manufacturer’s warranty period because you caused physical damage to it, like dropping it in water or cracking the screen. The manufacturer is not going to replace it, unless you’ve paid extra for an extended warranty. Yet cochlear implant manufactures know how important it is for you to hear and they usually, without question, provide you a replacement while under warranty regardless of how many times you request a replacement.

Given the advantageous warranties and the responsiveness of the CI manufacturers, the cost of replacement parts may not be that outrageous. Unfortunately, it is an unexpected expense and admittedly I complain about this as well. However; the cost may not seem as bad if you think about it in terms of what it would be without a warranty. Let’s hope cochlear implant manufacturers continue to support their CI recipients by maintaining or providing longer term warranties on their products. 

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