Medical alert systems can provide peace of mind for older adults living at home alone, but there are significant fees associated with them.
Medical alert systems often bring to mind images of those commercials advocating for immediate emergency support in the event of an accident at home. These critical systems are often promoted for older adults, but they can be vital for any individual with limited mobility or ongoing health concerns.
For example, someone who experiences epileptic episodes might appreciate the safety and support the system provides.
Keep reading to learn more about the different medical alert systems, the associated costs, and if they’re covered by insurance.
Medical alert systems typically fall into two categories: wearables and at-home systems. Whichever type you prefer, these devices are usually programmed to give you direct access to medical services in an emergency.
In most cases, the device is preset to contact emergency services or a trusted contact. But more robust options can connect you to the police, fire department, or your primary care professional.
The system might use a variety of mechanisms to detect an emergency:
- a button or cord, which you can manually push or pull
- fall detection
- voice activation
Main types of medical alert devices
Long before wearable tech was trending, medical alert systems used this technology. Most people are familiar with this kind of medical alert device, which is usually a necklace or handheld remote.
Wearable models are a good option for people concerned about slips or falls at home or on the go.
At-home systems rely on receivers positioned throughout your home. These systems sometimes come with wearables, giving you the option of using the wearable device or the base receiver to contact help.
However, they’re not usually as portable, as they typically need to be connected to a landline to function properly.
Keep in mind that price and functionality go hand in hand when shopping for a medical alert system. Fees can vary widely for these devices based on the services they provide, the equipment that’s included, and even installation.
Devices with features such as fall detection or water resistance will be more expensive than a basic device that only supports manual emergency requests.
Average monthly fees
Most medical alert systems charge a monthly service fee. This is what allows you to have 24/7 access to emergency help.
The average base fees are between $20 and $30 a month. However, some systems charge equipment fees, which can be between $50 and $350.
At-home systems that rely on a primary receiver are usually the most affordable devices, with a range of $20 to $30 per month. Wearable-only solutions are a bit pricier at $30 to $40 per month. If you want a combination of at-home and wearable devices, you’ll likely spend at least $40 or more.
Fees vary widely, so it’s important to consider your budget before shopping around.
Equipment fees can either be charged as a one-time fee or as part of your monthly subscription. Some services charge one-time activation fees, which can be as much as $100.
The more advanced medical alert systems that integrate into smartwatches and phones will usually cost more.
If you want to pay less up front, then you might want to consider renting, as you’ll pay a small fee as part of your monthly subscription. You’ll need to return the equipment if you cancel your subscription.
If you decide to purchase the equipment up front, you’ll spend more initially, but the device is yours to keep after canceling your subscription.
Value-added services can also increase your monthly costs.
For example, fall detection is a popular add-on service for many older adults. According to the
If you fall while wearing a device with fall detection, it will immediately dial a personal contact or company representative to determine what happened or to connect you with emergency services.
This premium feature typically costs an additional $3 to $10 per month.
Just like other monthly services, medical alert systems can also have administrative fees that will increase your overall subscription cost.
These fees can cover activation, membership, processing, and initiation. Some medical alert systems don’t include these extra fees, so when choosing the right system for you, it’s worth reading the fine print.
Are some medical alert systems free?
No, medical alert systems generally are not free.
However, there are some solutions that work like a medical alert system — without the markup. For example, many smartwatches are equipped with fall detection that automatically notifies a contact or connects with emergency services.
The short answer is that it depends.
Traditional private insurance or even marketplace plans provided through the Affordable Care Act typically don’t cover medical alert systems unless deemed medically necessary by a healthcare professional.
Long-term care insurance, a type of coverage specifically intended to reimburse expenses associated with navigating daily life, can potentially cover medical alert systems. However, you’ll still need to do your homework to make sure that the system you’re considering will be approved by your insurance provider.
Medicare and Medicaid coverage
Medicare is a bit more complicated. Medicare parts A and B — the key parts that most eligible older adults are subscribed to — can’t be applied to top-tier medical alert systems.
However, Medicare Advantage (Part C) can potentially be used for partial coverage. Still, you’ll need to check with your insurance provider to confirm that they cover medical alert systems, and if so, which ones are approved.
Medicaid is another option. This federally backed healthcare program is intended for individuals with low incomes who quality. Along with covering traditional primary care needs, there are options for benefits like coverage or reimbursement of medical alert systems.
Coverage varies by insurance provider and state. So, you’ll want to check with your specific provider to ensure that emergency systems are an included benefit and which systems are approved.
|Service||Device||Starting monthly fee||Fall detection ($ per month)||Response time||Connection|
|Medical Guardian||at-home & wearable||$30||yes ($10)||1–15 seconds||landline/cell (AT&T or Verizon)|
|Bay Alarm Medical||at-home & wearable||$25||yes ($10)||1–15 seconds||landline/cell (AT&T or Verizon)|
|MobileHelp||at-home & wearable||$20||yes ($11)||1–15 seconds||landline/cell (AT&T or Verizon)|
|ADT Health||at-home & wearable||$30||yes ($10)||1–15 seconds||landline/cell (AT&T or Verizon)|
|Aloe Care||at-home & wearable||$30||yes, free for some packages||1–15 seconds||cell (AT&T)|
|HandsFree Health||at-home & wearable||$30 (no monthly fee for at-home system)||yes ($10)||1–15 seconds||cell (T-Mobile)|
|LifeFone||at-home & wearable||$30||yes ($5)||15–25 seconds||landline/cell (AT&T or Verizon)|
|Lively||wearable||$25||yes ($9.99)||15–25 seconds||cell (Verizon)|
|One Call Alert||at-home & wearable||$20||yes ($10)||15–25 seconds||landline (AT&T)|
|LifeStation||at-home & wearable||$33||yes ($12)||15–25 seconds||landline (AT&T)|
Your first step is to consider your general health, needs, and lifestyle. If you’re in fairly good health, you might not need a more robust system.
If you’ve experienced falls in the past or have ongoing health concerns, a more proactive system that automatically calls a trusted contact or emergency services might make sense.
Consider the following:
- If you’re always on the go, a system with wearable devices or even a longer range from the base receiver might be useful.
- If you’re more sedentary, then an at-home-only system might be sufficient.
- Starting costs, monthly fees, and equipment fees can add up. Think about how a medical alert system best fits into your budget, and determine what you’re able to spend before shopping around.
- Which features are most important to you?
If you feel overwhelmed by all the options on the market, start by talking with your primary care professional. They’ll likely have suggestions about a good system for you and might be able to help you navigate insurance coverage as well.
Aging in place is a goal for many seniors. But fears of falling while living alone don’t have to force you out of your home. Medical alert systems can be proactive solutions to help you or a family member live at home more comfortably and safely.
While costs can vary widely across systems, it is possible to receive partial or full coverage depending on your insurance provider.