Some Medicare Advantage plans may cover personal emergency response systems (PERS). Original Medicare does not cover them.

Life Alert and other PERS allow a person at home to push a button to call for help when in trouble. The costs of PERS usually involve the initial installation charge and a monthly monitoring fee. Rentals and leases are also available.

This article discusses Medicare coverage, and how Life Alert works. It also looks at other options, the costs involved in the services, and possible benefits. Lastly, it provides advice on how to shop for a PERS.

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Some Medicare Advantage plans may cover Life Alert and other PERS.

Original Medicare, which comprises of Part A and Part B, does not consider Life Alert and other PERS medically necessary, so it does not cover them.

However, some Medicare Advantage plans, the alternative to original Medicare, may cover PERS as part of preventive health services. A person with an Advantage plan may wish to check to see if it includes PERS coverage.

Life Alert is one of several companies that sell protection services that enable a person to call for help in various emergencies. Such scenarios include:

  • falling in the bathtub or shower
  • falling in another part of the home
  • a sudden onset of a serious medical problem that needs immediate attention
  • an intruder breaking into the home

How does it work?

The services offer 24/7 access to a monitoring center that can contact an ambulance, police, fire department, or other authorities, and dispatch them to a person’s home.

What are the monitoring options?

Life Alert gives customers several monitor options:

  • a waterproof button to wear either as a pendant or a wristband, which connects to a landline or cell phone
  • a button the company installs on a bedside table, in a shower stall, or on a wall next to a bathtub or toilet
  • an audio monitoring system that allows the monitoring center to hear activity in a home
  • a pendant with a global positioning system (GPS) that permits authorities to find a person anywhere in the United States
  • speed dial on a cell phone or an app on a smart phone that connects to the monitoring center

How do the monitors work?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report that PERS have three components:

  • a small radio transmitter, such as Life Alert’s pendant or wristband
  • a console connected to a person’s telephone
  • a monitoring center that monitors calls and dispatches help

When someone presses the button in a transmitter, it sends a signal to the console that dials an emergency telephone number. Companies usually program the systems to call an emergency response center.

Once the center receives the call, the staff try to find out what kind of trouble a person is experiencing. Then, they look at the individual’s medical history and decide whom to notify.

According to Life Alert, the company handles more than 2 million calls per year. For more information, a person may call 800-360-0329.

Aside from Life Alert, there are other PERS are on the market.

Features differ, so a person may consider comparing several PERS before buying one. Some choices include:

  • Bay Alarm Medical
  • Great Call Lively Mobile
  • Life Station
  • Medical Alert
  • Medical Guardian
  • Mobile Help
  • Philips Lifeline
  • Rescue Alert

Costs vary among the companies that offer PERS. They also depend on the services a person chooses to include.

According to Consumer Reports, monthly costs for a basic service may range from around $20 to $50 per month.

Someone can choose to include extra features, such as GPS, which may range from an additional $20 to more than $100 per month. Another extra perk is fall detection, which may involve an additional $5 to $15 per month.

Some companies charge an activation fee. This may range from $25 to $95.

A cancellation fee is less common, but some companies charge it. Before buying a PERS, a person should see if they have to commit to a contract.

In a 2016 review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, scientists examined 33 studies dealing with older adults’ experiences with PERS. Those with the service found it easy to use. The technology made it possible for them to live independently by getting help when needed.

Some of the studies discovered PERS reduced medical complications and hospital stays that would have otherwise resulted from lengthy waits for help after falling. The authors concluded that, to some degree, PERS live up to their claim of increasing safety at home.

However, not all the results from the studies were positive. The PERS did not lower anxiety or improve quality of life.

The FTC offer guidelines on how to shop for a PERS.

The Eldercare locator may help a person find an Area Agency on Aging in their location, which could help them find area-related PERS.

After a person has made a list of companies, they may wish to check local authorities for any complaints. Local authorities include the Better Business Bureau, the area consumer protection agency, or a person’s state Attorney General.

Before signing any contract, it is a good idea for an individual to read it carefully and look for extra charges, such as cancellation fees.

People interested in a company’s PERS may consider asking these questions:

  • What training is included for the monitoring staff?
  • Is the monitoring center open 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
  • What is the typical response time?
  • What are the repair and replacement policies?
  • Can a person still use the service if they move to another city?
  • What are the initial and ongoing costs?
  • What features does the PERS have?

Original Medicare does not consider Life Alert and similar PERS medically necessary, but some Advantage plans may cover them.

Someone who has either original Medicare or an Advantage plan that does not cover PERS may choose to purchase the service on their own. The costs vary considerably among different companies, and for various features.

Research shows PERS generally live up to their promises of increasing independence and safety at home. If an individual is interested in getting a PERS, they may wish to compare the prices and features of several services, as well as investigate the companies offering them.