Thursday, June 22, 2017

An Unexpected Medical Scam -- and Solution

Now for something completely different (how many of you can identify that quote?);  a scam nobody else has mentioned, and an easy way out of it.

Rasty has been steadily losing his hearing for the past 10 years, which is a real tragedy, since he used to be one of the better sound-engineers in the San Francisco Bay area.  He also used to be a very good electronics engineer, who built proof-of-concept models for Bill Hearn -- designer of the UC Berkeley Exploratorium.  We learned the hard way that his Medicare, and its associated HMO, don't cover hearing-aids.  We also learned, after fairly extensive shopping around, that the average price for commercial hearing-aids is somewhere between $2000 and $3000 a pair.  The cheapest we could find anywhere cost $600 a pair, with no guarantee or warrantee.  This p!ssed Rasty off to no end, since he knew, from his years of electronics and sound-work, that a good hearing-aid requires no more than $10 worth of electronics.  He swore that if he'd still had access to Bill Hearn's old lab, he could have easily made a pair for himself with just a couple hours' work.  He did in fact put together an adjustable amplifier, with earphones, out of cheap parts bought at Radio Shack.  It worked only moderately well, since he couldn't make it compensate for distortion in the lower range or balance the high range.

He gave up trying to get anything better after the second time we followed up on a TV ad for a "free hearing test" as part of a come-on for a hearing-aid company.  Yes, we went and got the free test, and Rasty read the results -- which pretty closely confirmed what he'd already figured out.  The intriguing part was the way the doctor (of what?) kept hinting broadly that seniors who can't hear words clearly tend to fall into "dementia".  He then offered us a great deal on hearing-aids: just $2200 a pair.  Uhuh.  We made polite excuses and got out of there fast.  Rasty drove home muttering all the way, swearing that he'd make do with whatever he could pick up at Fry's Electronics.

Ah, but our luck was about to change.  The next day we got a package in the mail from one of Rasty's clever daughters, containing her husband's old (3 years) model smart-phone.  He got bored with the old model and bought a new state-of-the-art smart-phone (that was guaranteed not to catch fire), and decided to send the ol' man the ol' phone rather than dumping it on Gazelle or someplace like it.  'Twas a lovely piece of electronics, but it came without the manual and Rasty had no idea how to transfer his old phone's information to it.  Fortunately, Bill and Carol came for another visit before Rasty's blood-pressure could get any higher.  Bill, who's much more hacker than electronics freak, found the original manual in short order, also found Rasty a much cheaper phone-company (through Fry's), transferred his card-info for him, and -- purely as an afterthought -- added a free app called "hearing aid".  A pretty good ($20) pair of Fry's Electronics' earphones-with-microphone completed the set.

And it worked!  ...Well, partly.  Any phonecall Rasty got through that phone and earphones he could hear perfectly.  Overjoyed, Rasty spent the next couple days calling up his daughters and all his old pals and having long clear conversations with them for the first time in years.

The catch was that it didn't work so well on live sounds -- better than the cheap Radio Shack amplifier, but not by much.  Nor to mention that his rather broad fingers had problems with the persnickety phone's taps and swipes, and he has to get used to using the stylus.

Still, this is a great start -- and Bill's coming back tomorrow, so Rasty can go over the problems with him.  Maybe he'll need a better earphones and mike set, maybe he'll have to pay for a better "hearing aid" app, maybe it'll be something else -- but in any case, we're off to a great start.

And besides, we've discovered a great way for poor folks -- or even ordinary folks -- to beat the hearing-aid price scam that's been going on unhampered, and even unnoticed, for all these years.

 --Leslie <;)))><       


Technomad said...

I've had friends (and one "girlfriend," of sorts) who were hard-of-hearing, if not outright deaf. My mother was very concerned with helping deaf people. She saw it as "the invisible handicap" and busted her a$$ to get the local police to put in a TDD telephone.

Mom would have been interested to see this, and when she found out how badly those folks are being scammed...oh, boy! "'ve been doing the bad things again! Do you have any idea of how tired I get of having to hide all the bodies of the people you've disemboweled?"

Seriously, unless there are technical issues I'm not familiar with, this looks like an opportunity for some enterprising sort with electronics skills.

Leslie Fish said...

All it will take is a good "hearing aid" app (and I've heard there are a good number of them out there), decent headphones and a sensitive enough (or programmable) mike.

Technomad said...

When I looked on Google, I saw hearing aids for sale for a few hundred dollars. Where were you shopping?

Prof. Godel Fishbreath, Otter said...

The hearing aids today are programmable for what ranges they amplify.
Supposedly, with an old hearing aid (aprox $30-50) and some kind of programming tool and a chart of what sounds need amplification one could get a as new personalized hearing aid.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Nomad. Yep, I've seen those ads myself. The $400 one looks pretty good, but Rasty would need two of them -- and we don't have the $800, especially not after having to repair the heating/air-conditioning system.

Hi, Prof. Yes, Rasty could probably build an effective hearing-aid -- if he had the tools and workshop. The smartphone-and-mike-and-headphones-and-app system cost us less than $40, complete.

'Tis a question of what you've got and what you can get. *Sigh*

KateGladstone said...

For what it’s worth: current iPhones quietly include a setting which allows a connected pair of AirPods to function as customizable hearing aids while still serving as earbuds.