Maybe you have a loved one living alone or worry about you or your spouse taking a fall at home. A medical alert system could be the answer. But does Medicare help cover the costs?
What Are Medical Alert Systems?
Medical alert systems, also called life alerts, are wearable fall detectors or emergency response awareness buttons usually worn around the neck or wrist. In the event someone has an emergency (for example, takes a tumble, has chest pain, or faints) and can’t reach the phone, they push a button to alert help.
Medical alarms are a life-saving device used by many senior homeowners, especially those who live alone. They provide peace of mind for seniors and their families, helping families feel safer when loved ones live by themselves.
Some systems have sensors that automatically signal an alert when the device senses the wearer has fallen. Once the alarm goes off, first responders are dispatched. Most of these devices alert alarm-monitoring systems, emergency response systems, or are programmed to signal a family member or nearby neighbor or friend.
But their costs can be prohibitive for fixed budgets. Many include a one-time fee for the device, plus monthly monitoring service fees.
Does Medicare Cover Medical Alert Systems?
Medicare Part A, which pays for hospital expenses, doesn’t cover the cost of medical life alert systems. Medicare Part B, optional coverage for doctor’s visits, labs, X-rays, and medical equipment, also won’t cover life alert expenses. However, it’s possible Medicare Advantage, also known as Part C, may cover the cost of medical alarms. Medicare Advantage is private coverage available to Medicare Parts A and B members.
Whether or not your Medicare Part C coverage will help defray the cost depends on your particular insurer and your coverage limitations. Check your policy for specifics or contact your carrier to inquire.1
If you qualify for Medicaid, you may find some home and community-based programs in your state that can help with the cost of life alert systems. Some may discount the initial device, but not the monthly service fees. Again, check with your state’s Medicaid resource for specifics on coverage.
If you have long-term care insurance, ask your carrier if they cover life alert systems. Some do.
What Types of Devices are Available?
Traditional Medical Alert Pendants or Bracelets
Worn on the neck or wrist, these lanyard-carried alert systems can be worn comfortably and allow you to push a button in the event of a fall or health emergency. You can then speak directly to a central monitoring system from the base unit in your home. If you’re unresponsive, rescue services are triggered.
Two-way speakers consist of a base unit and a button in one and are a little larger in size but allow you to speak directly with the monitoring center from wherever you are. Some also have the option to speak with a family member, friend, or neighbor whose contact is preprogrammed. They are clipped on a belt or carried in a purse or pocket.
Cellular Alert Systems
These use a cellular signal and are right for active seniors or when driving. Some have built-in GPS tracking to locate you anywhere. Others also enable two-way conversation.
Unmonitored Life Alerts
Unmonitored devices are two-way communication portals to dial 911 or a friend or family member. These are personal communication devices and lack many of the features available with monitored systems. However, they don’t have a monthly monitoring fee.
How Do You Pick a Medicare Alert System?
- Figure out the features that are most important to you. Is calling a family member or friend enough, or would you prefer a monitored system that can send first responders immediately?
- Check the size of the unit and decide if you’d prefer to wear it on a lanyard around the neck, wrist, or clipped into a belt or carried in a purse. If wearing, you want the device to be comfortable and unobtrusive.
- Check that the pricing is straightforward. Some companies rent the equipment, others sell it. Plus, there may be one fee for the device itself, and a monthly fee for monitoring. Some companies don’t require a device fee.
- Make sure you can cancel at any time and do not have to sign a long-term contract.
- The life alert should be water resistant or waterproof so you can wear it in the shower if needed.
- Ask about battery life. You’re looking for a long battery life that doesn’t need charging frequently.
- You’ll appreciate a risk-free guarantee if not satisfied.2
What Will Medical Alert Systems Cost You?
Depending on the system and company you choose, monthly monitoring fees for life alert devices range from $26 for traditional pendant models to $38 for a mobile GPS-enabled device. A mobile device with a fall detection alert averages $44 monthly. Cost of the equipment itself averages about $50.
Many medical alert system companies also offer discounts to AARP members. Additionally, don’t forget to ask about sales, coupons, and other discounts available for things like prepaying for a year of service.
Fall detection when available, may sometimes provide false-positive alarms and adds about $15 to monthly fees.3
Why Get a Medical Alert System?
Sometimes a medical alert system can be the difference between living alone and moving into an assisted living facility or in with family.
A monitored system can give you and your loved ones the security and reassurance you’re craving especially if you’re worried about falls or health events. Life alerts can provide an extra layer of protection. Even If you end up paying out of pocket, the smallish monthly fee may be enough to outweigh the comfort and independence these devices provide.