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

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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 the costs involved for those whose insurance plan does not cover the service.

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

However, some Medicare Advantage plans, which people can select as an alternative to original Medicare, may cover PERS as part of preventive health services. A person with an Advantage plan may wish to check whether it includes PERS coverage as part of their supplemental coverage.

In some states, Medicaid programs may help cover a portion or all of the costs of a medical alert system. A person can contact their Medicaid office to find out whether this is the case.

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

According to Consumer Reports, the range of costs for a basic service is about $20–$50 per month.

A person can choose to pay more to include extra features, such as GPS. The cost of adding GPS may range from $20 to more than $100 per month. Another extra perk is fall detection, for which a person may need to pay an additional $5–$15 per month.

Some companies also charge an activation fee, which may range from $25 to $95.

A cancellation fee is less common, but some companies do charge one. Before buying a PERS, a person should find out whether they have to commit to a contract.

Life Alert is one of several companies selling 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, the police, the 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 that 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 the person’s home
  • a pendant with GPS that permits authorities to find a person anywhere in the United States
  • speed dial on a cell phone or an app on a smartphone that connects to the monitoring center

How do the monitors work?

The Federal Trade Commission states that PERS have three components:

  • a small radio transmitter, such as Life Alert’s pendant or wristband
  • a console that connects 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 system to call an emergency response center.

Once the center receives the call, the staff members try to find out what kind of issue 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 each year. For more information, a person can call 800-360-0329.

Original Medicare does not consider Life Alert and similar PERS medically necessary, but some Medicare Advantage plans may cover them. A person can speak with their plan provider to confirm whether they have coverage.

Someone who has either original Medicare or an Advantage plan that does not cover PERS may choose to purchase the service independently. The costs vary considerably among different companies and can increase significantly if a person wishes to include additional features.

Research shows that PERS are generally effective in 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.