Original Medicare, which is Part A and Part B, does not cover medical alert systems. However, some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans may cover the devices.
Costs vary among systems and may include a one-time activation fee and a monthly charge. If a person wants additional features beyond the basic service, the monthly fee may increase.
Below, we discuss Medicare coverage of medical alert systems (MAS). Then, we examine how the systems work, as well as their pros and cons. Lastly, we look at the types of systems, costs, and options for helping with costs.
Original Medicare comprises Part A, hospitalization insurance, and Part B, medical insurance. However, because MAS may not be considered medically necessary, Medicare does not cover them.
Because original Medicare does not cover MAS, other Medicare plans such as Medicare Part D, prescription drug coverage, and Medigap, Medicare supplement insurance, do not cover MAS.
However, Medicare Advantage is the alternative to original Medicare and generally provides some benefits that original Medicare does not offer. Some plans may cover MAS. A person can use this tool to find a Medicare Advantage plan in their area.
If a person gets Medicaid, they can check if the program may help with coverage or costs.
Medical alert systems are also called personal emergency response systems. The system makes it simple for a person to call for help when in trouble, by pressing a button.
The systems generally have three parts: a small radio transmitter, a console connected to a telephone, and a response center monitoring calls 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Batteries provide power for the transmitters. A person may wear them on a wristband, in a pocket, on a belt, or around their neck on a pendant.
When a person needs help, they press the button on the transmitter, which sends a signal to the console. In response, the console dials one or more emergency telephone numbers.
Most companies program the MAS to call an emergency response center. After the center receives the call, a staff member finds out what kind of emergency the person is having, looks at their medical history, and checks who they should notify.
MAS may bring peace of mind to both the person using them and to their families. However, a person may wish to consider some pros and cons.
- After a fall, the sooner a person goes to a hospital, the better the outlook on their heath, as opposed to a lengthy wait to receive help.
- If an individual is having chest pains, which may indicate a heart attack, immediate medical attention is critical.
- Aside from getting medical help, MAS can also summon the fire department or police.
- Knowing a person can get help simply by pressing a button can foster a greater sense of security.
- If someone is confused, they may forget to wear the button.
- An individual with a physical or mental disability may be unable to get to a door to let an emergency helper enter their home.
- During emergencies, a person may be too ill to press the button.
A 2016 review in the Journal of Medical Internal Research examined 33 studies dealing with people’s experience with MAS. The authors concluded that while most MAS increased safety and independence, they were not helpful for everyone.
There are several types of MAS. The basic type includes a push button used by a person to alert help as needed, a communication system, and an emergency call center.
Some systems include the following features:
- In addition to MAS with a transmitter in a wearable object, some systems have transmitters installed on a bedside table or shower stall.
- For an extra fee, some systems offer fall detection. This feature senses when person has a fall and automatically calls an emergency number.
- Some companies design their MAS to work inside a home with a landline, while others design them to work with a cell phone. The cell phone variety has GPS, which permits an emergency center to locate a person even if they are away from home.
Not all systems include an emergency call center. Instead, they may offer an option to call a family member or friend. A person can program the system to call several people and then for it to call emergency service if the other calls are not answered.
Costs vary among MAS, and may depend on the features a person chooses. According to Safe Home, the average monthly cost for a MAS package ranges from $19.95 to 49.95. Equipment costs are additional.
Consumer Reports shows some common per item costs as follows:
- fall detection, which may cost an extra $0 (included in the company’s package deal) to $15 per month
- mobile GPS tracking that could cost an extra $20 to more than $65 per month, plus a device fee in some cases
- in-home landline service, with monthly costs ranging from $20 to $50
- in-home cellular service, with monthly costs ranging from $20 to $57
- activation fees ranging from $0 to $95
Some companies may require a person to sign a contract to use the service for a certain number of months. There may be a fee if a person cancels early.
Because MAS may not be considered medically necessary, Medicare does not cover them. However, a person may consider other options to help with costs.
- If a person gets Medicaid, they can check if the program can help with coverage or costs.
- A person can check if the MAS company offers discounts or rebates.
- If a person belongs to a membership organization, it may be worth checking to see if there are any discounts.
- The system may be tax-deductible. A person can check their status with a tax professional.
- A person might prefer to avoid long-term contracts because of potential early cancellation fees or penalties.
Original Medicare does not cover MAS because it generally does not consider them medically necessary. Some Advantage plans may cover them, so a person may wish to check their plan’s coverage. Medicaid may also help cover costs.
Research shows MAS can increase safety and independence at home, but the systems may not be suitable for everyone.