Page Reviewed / Updated - Dec. 2013
Unfortunately for most seniors, walk in bathtubs are not considered to be durable medical equipment by Medicare and therefore Medicare will not pay for the cost of a walk-in tub nor will they contribute to the cost of installation.
Having said that, there may be rare situations in which Medicare does provide assistance. When this occurs, the support comes as reimbursement not in advance of the purchase. The tub would have to be considered an absolute medical necessity. The beneficiary would need a medical diagnosis which proves their need as well as a written prescription which outlined the reasons for which a walk in tub is necessary. Even with all this support, there is no guarantee of Medicare's assistance. When it comes to Medicare, It is best to think of the tub as an out-of-pocket purchase, submit one's claim and hope for the best but be financially prepared to pay the full cost including installation or look for other sources of assistance.
Medicaid, unlike Medicare, is much more likely to provide financial assistance for the purchase and installation of a walk in tub. However Medicaid, unlike Medicare, is not a single program but instead each state has several different Medicaid programs and therefore there are possibly 100s of different sets of rules governing Medicaid's policy on the purchase of a walk in tub or "low threshold shower". For example, Medicaid in California (Medi-Cal) has programs for pregnant women, for infants, for nursing home care and for assisted living. None of these Medi-Cal programs will pay for a walk in tub. However, there are also Medicaid programs for Home and Community Based Services (HCBS). For example, New Jersey has a HCBS Waiver called the Global Options Waiver which will pay for "specialized medical equipment" and "environmental accessibility modifications". Under these guidelines, when medically necessary to help an individual remain living in their home, Medicaid will pay the purchase price and installation costs for a walk in tub.
Each state has different Medicaid HCBS waivers. To determine if your state will pay, you should examine the benefits of your state's Medicaid waivers to see if they will pay for durable medical equipment, assistive technology, home modifications or environmental accessibility adaptations. A complete list of Medicaid waivers relevant to the elderly can be found here. Alternatively, one might choose to contact their local Area Agency on Aging and ask if there is a Medicaid Waiver which will cover these costs.
It is difficult to make a blanket statement regarding the Veterans Administration's policy of paying for a walk in tub as well as the home modification costs to install the tub. It is perhaps more beneficial to consider individual programs offered by the VA. With TRICARE and CHAMPVA insurance programs, it would be difficult to receive assistance for a walk in tub as they do not consider them to be durable medical equipment. TRICARE for Life and CHAMPVA for Life, function much like Medicare Supplemental Insurance programs. If TRICARE and CHAMPVA will not pay, then it is unlikely TRICARE for Life and CHAMPVA for Life will pay either.
On a more positive note, there are several VA programs that provide assistance which can be used for the purchase and installation of a walk in tub or shower. The VA offers 3 different grants for disabled veterans: these are the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant, the Special Home Adaptation (SHA) Grant and the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) Grant. Of these, the HISA Grant is the most applicable to aging veterans as their disability need not be connected to their military service.
Another option are Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS). This is a program modeled after Medicaid's Consumer Directed HCBS in which the participant is provided with a certain budget for their care requirements and given a certain amount of flexibility to spend that budget on the services and supplies they determine as necessary. Under this program, a veteran may choose to allocate a portion of the allowance toward the purchase and installation of a walk in bathtub or shower. Learn more about VD-HCBS.
There are several other options which can help pay for a walk in tub, though it should be noted that these are not necessarily available to everyone.
Somewhat surprisingly, there is a grant available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that helps elderly, low income, residents of rural areas make home modifications to enable aging in place. These grants can be used for home and safety improvements including the addition of a walk in tub to one's bathroom. Learn more here.
Some states have non-Medicaid financial assistance programs for the elderly which can be used for home modifications such as walk in tubs. Unfortunately, only a handful of states have these programs at present. A list is available here.
On occasion, non-profit organizations have community initiatives which can offset the installation costs of a walk-in tub. It should be noted that these organizations typically do not pay for the cost of materials (i.e. the cost of the walk in tub). One such program with a national footprint is called Rebuilding Together.
Finally, some manufacturers of walk in tubs offer financing which can convert a large upfront payment into a monthly bill of approximately $100 - $150.
If a walk in tub is purchased for medical safety reasons, it can be consider a medical expense and therefore under the materials and the installation costs are tax deductible as a Medical and Dental Expense.
If one is caring for an elderly parent in their home and they make a home modification which includes the addition of a walk in tub, the homeowner can claim the expense under the Dependent Care Tax Credit. Some states have their own version of this credit; click here to learn more.
Walk in tubs, the most basic versions, can be purchased for between $1,800 - $2,500. However, the most basic version often are not designed to accommodate individuals who predominately use wheelchairs and those who have difficulty transferring themselves. Wheelchair accessible walk in tubs are typically twice as expensive as the basic version; one should expect to pay between $3,500 - $5,000.
There is a great deal of variance in the installation costs of walk in tubs, largely depending on one's existing bathroom design and if other changes are needed to accommodate for wheelchair access. The most basic installation can take only 4-8 hours of work, but rarely are the installations so cut and dry. There is tilework, plumping, hot water heater and old tub removal considerations. One should expect anywhere between $500 - $5000 to have a tub installed.
The easiest way to determine your costs is to get a free, non-binding installation quote. You can obtain multiple quotes from several local home modification professionals at no obligation by completing this short form.
It is possible to purchase a walk in tub in used condition. However, in reality this rarely happens due to the removal and shipping challenges. Both of which can easily damage a tub. Most individuals decide the cost savings of purchasing used does not warrant the risk of damaged or leaky tub as well as the hassles associated with transporting the tub to a new location.