While many seniors find medical alert systems incredibly useful, giving them or their spouses the confidence they need to live independently long into their retirement, the reality is that many couples have limited retirement funds and may find the cost of a medical alert system prohibitive. The good news is that there are several programs that can help seniors access free medical alert coverage for their spouses.
Here, we list a few ways that seniors can get financial support to pay for medical alert devices and subscriptions, either through federal programs, medical insurance or help from the manufacturers themselves.
Investigate Health Insurance Benefits
Some health insurance policies may cover medical alert systems, but this varies from policy to policy. Medicare plans don’t usually include medical alert systems. Those who are enrolled in Medicaid and are eligible for Home and Community-Based Services Waivers may be able to get assistance with the cost of medical alert devices since these systems fall under the category of Personal Emergency Response Services.
Home and Community-Based Services Waivers differ from state to state, so it’s a good idea to seek advice from the local Area Agency on Aging. Many agencies offer Medicare and Medicaid advice services and can help seniors find the best program for their needs.
Those who have a private health insurance policy should speak to their insurance provider to find out if medical alert systems are covered.
Tax Deductions for Seniors
The Internal Revenue Service may treat a personal emergency response service (PERS), or a medical alert device, as an allowable expense for tax purposes. This doesn’t help cover the up-front cost of the device but can help in the long term.
There are a couple of circumstances where this deduction may be allowable:
- If a doctor has stated that a medical alert system could help with an existing condition. For example, an alert system that provides notification that a spouse has left the house could be tax-deductible if a doctor agrees that the device’s notification system could help manage the spouse’s wandering or prevent them from getting lost.
- If a doctor classifies the spouse’s in-home monitoring system as special equipment for essential medical care. Only in-home systems would be considered tax-deductible. Portable devices do not qualify.
The IRS doesn’t explicitly show medical alert systems on its list of allowable medical devices. To claim a deduction, a doctor must prescribe its use.
Support for Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs has formed a partnership with two medical alert systems manufacturers to help qualifying veterans access such devices. Veterans can contact MedEquip Alert and LifeLife Personal Mobile Alarms to request a free medical alert system.
Several other companies also offer discounts for former service personnel, including:
- Medical Guardian
- Bay Alarm Medical
Not all medical alert companies advertise their discounts. Consider contacting the AARP or USAA to learn if a particular company offers discounts for veterans or organization members. It’s also worth visiting the local VA to find out if there’s any other applicable support for veterans.
Check With the Manufacturers
Many medical alert system manufacturers offer spouse packages, free extra devices for spouses or the ability to add a spouse for a nominal fee. If someone already has a medical alert device in their home or feels that they and their spouse both require a device, they should check with each provider to find out if it offers discounts for couples.
In addition, many companies offer multiple pricing tiers, and their flagship device may not be the least expensive option. If someone on a low income needs a medical alert device for their spouse, they should ask each provider what plans and devices it offers. Simple ‘push to call’ in-home-only devices often carry far lower fees than sophisticated GPS and cellular-enabled devices.
State-Specific Funding Options
Local Senior Assistance Agencies or Area Agencies on Aging may be able to recommend state-specific funding options. In some cases, the Department of Mental Health can offer support for seniors with chronic conditions via state-funded grants. Contact the nearest agency to discuss specific needs and circumstances. The waiting lists for grants can be significant, so it’s best to apply early.