For many seniors with limited mobility, a walk-in tub can not only make bathing easier, but it can also improve therapeutic treatments. Walk-in tubs have enhanced safety features, such as handle grips, low steps, anti-slip surfaces and anatomical seating, all of which make for a safer bathing experience, when compared with traditional tubs or showers. However, the added safety features of walk-in tubs come at a cost, and they typically range from about $3,000 for low-end models to over $20,000 for high-end models, including installation.
These high costs can make walk-in tubs seem out of reach for some seniors. This guide explains a few of the ways that seniors can obtain financial assistance for walk-in tubs, such as Medicaid, VA benefits and federal programs. This guide will also discuss some of the challenges associated with securing financial assistance and lend advice on what’s needed to obtain funding.
Before diving into the best financial assistance options for walk-in tubs, it’s important to cover some of the least likely sources for funding. A few of the seemingly obvious choices, private insurance and Medicare, are actually the least viable. Though walk-in tubs can be game-changers for seniors, they are typically not viewed as medical necessities, even when recommended by a doctor, and are not usually covered.
Seniors can give private health insurance providers a call to discuss the costs of a walk-in tub, but they likely won’t provide financial assistance. Despite the therapeutic and safety features of walk-in tubs, most insurance providers consider them a luxury and not a necessity. Insurance companies may also direct policyholders to lower-cost options, such as bath lifts and accessible showers. Some insurance companies may offer special policies or riders specifically designed to cover accessibility upgrades, but these may come with high premiums. Seniors may want to consider speaking with their doctor before contacting an insurance company. Extensive medical records will likely be required, and a physician may be able to include a walk-in tub as part of a prescription for medical treatment.
Medicare is a vital source of health care for many seniors, but this federal program usually won’t provide financial assistance for walk-in tubs. Though seniors may have previously received help buying items, such as motorized scooters and patients lifts, through Medicare, these items are classified as durable medical equipment, and thus covered by Medicare Part B. At this time, walk-in tubs are not classified as durable medical equipment and are not covered by standard Medicare.
Seniors with Medicare Advantage, however, may be able to obtain some funding through the program’s supplemental benefits. These benefits have been expanded to include funding for nontraditional health expenses, and walk-in tubs may qualify. While regulated by Medicare, the Advantage program is facilitated by private insurers, so funding requests may be handled on a case-by-case basis. When requesting financial assistance through Medicare Advantage, seniors may want to submit detailed medical records, including the brand, model and any defining features that make a walk-in tub medically necessary.
Finding financial assistance for walk-in tubs through Medicare and private insurance may prove challenging, but those with access to Medicaid may have better luck. Unlike Medicare, which is a single, federally-run program, Medicaid consists of many programs run at the state level. In some states, seniors may find targeted Medicaid programs specifically designed to help residents make home upgrades and health improvements.
The most likely way to secure funding assistance for a walk-in tub from Medicaid is through a community transition program. These programs exist in 27 states, including New York and Alabama, and offer financial assistance to seniors in assisted living facilities who wish to move into a private home. These funds can be used for upgrades to private residences, including therapeutic items, such as walk-in tubs.
Those who live in states without a community transitions program may want to consider their state’s Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) program. These programs bring vital services to Medicaid recipient’s homes, helping to reduce the need for travel and alleviate social isolation. Most HCBS programs work on waiver-based systems, allowing financial assistance for home upgrades and medical equipment. These programs are also well-funded and at times have represented over half of all long-term Medicaid spending nationwide.
The United States Board of Veterans Affairs has several programs for senior veterans that may help with the costs of a walk-in tub. While the VA’s insurance programs, CHAMPVA and TRICARE, pose similar funding obstacles to private insurance, the VA also provides a range of grants, pensions and aid packages that may be a more viable funding source.
Known as the Veteran Directed Care Program, this initiative is similar to Medicaid’s state-based HCBS programs. This program was retooled in 2018 and is a collaboration between the VA and Veteran’s Health Association. It is designed to give veterans full control over their long-term care. Each enrollee manages a flexible budget that can be spent on care and services as they see fit. This funding can be used for a portion or the entire cost of a walk-in tub, depending on the approved budget and tub cost. Veterans in the program have access to counselors, who may be able to help manage the budgeting and logistics of a walk-in tub purchase.
In addition to standard VA pensions, some veterans may qualify for aid and attendance benefits or housebound allowances. Like the Veteran Directed Care Program, these benefits offer flexible funding that may be used for the purchase of a walk-in tub. Unlike managed care, however, these programs extend financial help specifically to veterans who need additional help or are housebound. These funds are typically added onto the recipients’ standard VA pension but may also be issued in the form of a reimbursement, based on a veteran’s calculated income.
Veterans who don’t qualify for directed care, aid and attendance benefits or housebound allowances may still secure financial assistance through one of the VA’s home modification grants. There are three VA grants dedicated to home modifications. These are known as the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) Grant, Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant and Special Home Adaptation (SHA) Grant. These grants provide benefits ranging from $6,800 to over $90,000, and all are specifically designed to help veterans with limited mobility. Amongst the three, the HISA may be the best choice for seniors, as $2,000 in funding is available for non-service related conditions, such as aging.
Seniors who don’t qualify for Medicaid or VA benefits may still have some good financial assistance options. The cost of walk-in tubs may, for example, be tax-deductible as a medical expense. Financial assistance may also be available through the USDA’s Department of Rural Development. This department offers single-family home repair loans and grants that can help seniors and remove safety hazards and health impediments.