You've probably seen the television commercial showing an older woman sprawled on the floor, calling "Help! I've fallen and can't get up." Years ago, you may not have given much thought to medical alert systems. Now that you're older, however, you might pay more attention to those ads if you live alone or have concerns about an aging parent living independently in their home.
If you're looking for medical alert systems covered by Medicare Part A or Part B, you won't find them. However, some Medicare Advantage Plans may cover medical alert systems.
What is a Medical Alert System?
A medical alert system provides an additional safety measure for older adults who live alone. Although services vary among the many medical alert companies, the basic service is the same. The person typically pays a monthly or annual subscription fee for a small, wearable device with an emergency button they can use to call for help if they fall or have a medical emergency. Many medical alert devices also have GPS so first responders can easily locate a person on the go who needs help. Some even offer fall detection that alerts the system's call center.
If medical help is needed, the medical alert company dispatches an ambulance and notifies emergency contacts. Sometimes, a family member may need only to show up to help their loved one up from the floor, toilet or another restrictive position.
Costs for medical alert systems vary, starting at $20 to $50 per month. Many companies don't require a contract, and some offer a discount when you pay annually. However, medical alert system subscription costs can add up, especially when you live on a retirement income.
If you're looking for medical alert systems covered by Medicare so you can save on subscription costs, signing up for a Medicare Advantage Plan, also known as Medicare Part C, could cover some of the costs.
How Can a Medicare Advantage Plan Help?
Medicare Part A covers hospital stays, short-term stays in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care and some home health care. Generally, you don't pay a premium for Medicare Part A. Medicare Part B has a $170.10 premium in 2022 and covers certain medical services, along with a list of eligible Durable Medical Equipment (DME) including blood sugar meters and test strips, canes, crutches and walkers. However, Part B won't cover medical alert systems. Neither will Medigap supplement plans, since they fill in the "gaps" of Medicare Part A and Part B.
Still, you may be able to get Medicare coverage for the medical alert system you've got your eye on as some Medicare Advantage Plans may cover medical alert systems. To find a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers coverage, go to the Medicare Plan Finder and type in your zip code. Under "plan benefits" listed in the overview of each Medicare Advantage Plan offered, look for a green checkmark beside "emergency response device." Then click on the blue "plan details" tab for additional information about emergency medical alert coverage.
If you can't find the plan details on emergency medical alert systems or have questions, contact the insurance provider for the Medicare Advantage Plan. Then compare several plans that cover emergency response devices before signing up for the best Medicare Advantage Plan for you. If you're already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn't cover medical alert systems, you may have to wait until the annual Medicare Advantage open enrollment period (January 1 to March 31) or the fall Medicare open enrollment period (October 15 to December 7) to change your current plan or enroll in a new Medicare Advantage Plan.
More Ways To Save on Medical Alert Systems
If the medical alert company offers a discount for paying a lump annual sum, that can be a great way to save. If you qualify for Medicaid, check your state Medicaid programs to find out if one may cover the cost of a medical alert system. To find the best medical alert system for your needs, call several companies, and make sure you check third-party online reviews for customer experiences. Then compare Medicare Advantage Plans that may cover the cost.