What is a Platform Lift?
Platform lifts are powered lifting devices that transport wheelchair bound seniors and disabled persons up and down stairs, allowing them to continue to live independently in their homes. An individual simply wheels their wheelchair onto the platform of the lift, which then transports them from one floor of their home to another floor, or if installed outdoors, allows them access to their porch. The majority of platform lifts are designed to be self-operated.
Platform lifts are also commonly referred to as wheelchair lifts, wheelchair porch lifts, step lift, accessibility lifts, vertical platform lifts or less formally, wheelchair elevators.
Vertical vs. Inclined Platform Lifts
There are two types of platform lifts: vertical platform and inclined platform:
Vertical platform lifts, which can extend up to 14 feet, are most commonly installed in homes, as well as outside to access porches. They are similar to elevators, moving straight up and down, but are more cost efficient. Unlike elevators, vertical platform lifts are not fully enclosed, though a cage often encloses the platform of the lift. For installation, a 6-foot square area of space is required. Unfortunately, the landings required for vertical platform lifts can’t always be installed on all floors or near doors in all homes, which makes inclined platform lifts the desirable option.
Inclined platform lifts are similar to stair lifts, and can extend up to 164 feet, but rather than have a chair attached to the lift, it has a platform large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. The platform is attached to a track, allowing it to move up and down the stairs, which then folds on both ends of the stairwell. At a minimum, inclined platform lifts require 36 inches of space, which means this type of lift is not an option for narrow stairs.
Medicare’s Policy on Platform Lifts
It’s commonly asked if Original Medicare covers the cost of residential wheelchair lifts, and unfortunately, the answer is no. Medicare supplemental insurance policies, which are often referred to as Medigap policies, help cover copayments and deductibles for items or services that are covered by Medicare. Therefore, because Medicare does not help, Medicare supplemental insurance does not help either. However, there are also Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, which are available through private insurance companies. In addition to offering all of the benefits as Original Medicare, MA plans also offer supplemental benefits that Original Medicare does not. Commonly, vision and dental benefits are available, but some MA plans may now also cover the cost of some supplemental health care benefits, which may include residential wheelchair lifts for some persons.
Financial Assistance & Payment Options
Medicaid policies vary based on the state in which one resides, which makes it difficult to make a blanket statement as to whether or not Medicaid covers the cost of platform lifts. To complicate the question further, each state offers multiple Medicaid programs. Nonetheless, if we focus strictly on Medicaid’s policy for seniors and disabled individuals who reside at home, the most likely answer is that yes, Medicaid will cover the cost of wheelchair platform lifts, given they are medically necessary and enable the individual to remain living at home, rather than require placement in a nursing home. If Medicaid in your state will cover the cost of a house wheelchair lift, it most likely will do so through a Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waiver.
HCBS Medicaid Waivers provide supports and services to individuals who need a level of care equivalent to that provided in a nursing home to assist them in living independently. Often these waivers cover home modifications, and purchasing and installing a platform lift would be considered a home modification. Thus, residential wheelchair lifts would be covered. To see a list of state-by-state HCBS Waivers that allow for home modifications, click here. Unfortunately, HCBS Waivers are not Medicaid entitlements, meaning enrollment in these programs is limited.
Regular Medicaid, also referred to as State Plan Medicaid, is another viable option. This is an entitlement program and the financial criteria (income and assets) are generally stricter than that of Medicaid Waivers. Durable Medical Equipment (DME), which may include mobility-enhancing equipment, is often covered under state Medicaid plans. If this is the case, a house wheelchair lift could be considered DME. However, Medicaid would only cover the most basic platform wheelchair lift for stairs or vertical platform lift, and even so, it may have a cap on the amount of financial assistance an eligible applicant is able to receive. Therefore, regular Medicaid might not cover the full cost of a wheelchair platform lift.
Assistance for Veterans
The Veteran's Benefits Administration does offer financial assistance when it comes to wheelchair platform lifts. For veterans who are restricted to wheelchairs and cannot go up and down the stairs in their home due to a disability related to service, VA health care will cover the cost of a platform lift. Authorization is required and both a skills evaluation and home visit is a must prior to authorization.
Assistance is also available through the VA Aid and Attendance benefit (for both veterans and their spouses), which provides financial assistance for care related services and does not require a service related disability. This is a pension and not specifically intended for durable medical equipment but can be used towards that goal. Additional information is available here.
The Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS) is another option that provides supports and services through VA Medical Centers. This program is intended for veterans who require a nursing home level of care, but prefer to live at home, and if not for the services provided by this program, would require nursing home placement. Some of the VD-HCBS benefits are Veterans Directed, meaning eligible applicants are able to choose the supports that will best serve them, and if the veteran determines an inclined platform lift or vertical platform lift is essential to remaining independent in their home, the expense would be allowed.
HISA Grants are another great option for disabled veterans and provides financial assistance to accommodate for disabilities. A military-related disability is not required, making the grant applicable to a large number of veterans. The SHA Grant and the SAH Grant are also available options, but to a smaller group of veterans due to the requirement that the disability be service connected.
Many states have financial assistance programs for elderly or disabled persons who are not eligible for Medicaid due to the fact that their income or assets exceed Medicaid limits. Some of these state programs include home modifications as a benefit. It is possible that these state programs would cover the cost of a wheelchair platform lift as a home modification. However, given the high cost of platform lifts and the limited funding that many of these programs have, it is likely they would not cover the full amount required for hardware and installation labor.
Eligibility requirements are not constant across programs, but typically they all consider the applicant’s physical need, income, and liquid assets. For a list of state programs that do offer assistance for home modifications, click here. In order to determine if a wheelchair platform lift would be covered via a particular program, one must specifically inquire with the program administrators.
Other Payment Options & Cost Reductions
Each state has an Assistive Technology (AT) Program. Most of these programs offer low interest loans to families with an elderly or disabled person that can be used to purchase and install a platform lift. These loan programs may have conditions. For example, when the family no longer has a need for a platform lift, they might be required to sell the lift back to the AT Program at a below market rate so the lift can be re-used by another family. For contact information for assistive technology programs throughout the states, click here.
A reverse mortgage might be another feasible option. Particularly in the event a family is modifying an entire home with additional pricey modifications (such as walk-in tub, widening of doorways, and wheelchair ramps) in order for an elderly or disabled individual to continue to live independently at home. A reverse mortgage, despite having a poor reputation, can be a good financial option for an individual who owns their home, has mobility challenges but is otherwise in good health and expects to remain living in their home for many years to come.
Tax deductions, though not a funding source, can reduce a family’s overall tax burden, thus freeing up money to be spent on a platform lift. A platform lift can be considered a medical expense, and therefore, can be deducted as such. Given the high cost of the hardware and installation, the tax savings can be significant.
Finally, there may be financing available from platform lift manufacturers or dealers, which will allow one to spread the cost of the platform lift over a period of time.
Costs of Platform Lifts
Vertical wheelchair lift prices and platform wheelchair lift for stairs prices tend to cover a large range of cost, from approximately $1,000 - $15,000. In general, inclined platform lifts for stairs that are straight run $2,000 - $5,000. Lifts for curved stairs tend to be more costly since they often require customization. A basic vertical platform lift runs approximately $5,000 (including installation). If the lift is purchased off the Internet, rather than from a reputable wheelchair lift dealer, the price tends to be a bit more affordable. However, if purchased from a dealer, the price may include professional installation, while this is not the case with lifts bought from a private party.
Some dealers include the price of installation in the price of an outdoor wheelchair lift or house wheelchair lift. Alternatively, some vertical and inclined platform lifts may be self-installed. Generally, self-installation is rather straightforward for someone who is handy and has access to basic tools, taking 3 to 4 hours to install. For those who are not handy or are installing a lift that is difficult to install, professional installation may be required, which will produce an additional cost. Professional installations can cost between $1,000 - $4,000.
Another thing to consider, which will be an additional cost, is construction requirements. For instance, vertical platform lifts require landing platforms that have the capacity for the wheelchair platform, making it easy for an individual to wheel on and off the platform. Any railings and walls that separate the landing from the moving wheelchair platform must be removed. Also, if there is not an electrical outlet close to the equipment, an electrician might be needed.
Features Affecting Price
There are many features that affect the price of residential wheelchair lifts. Make note of the following factors that do so:
Manufacturer – brands that are well-known, reliable, and trusted are more expensive than a brand that is lesser known.
Stairway Shape (Inclined platform lifts) – It is most affordable if the staircase is straight, while curved and angled lifts are more expensive, as a custom design is required.
Lift Height / Distance – For both vertical lifts and inclined lifts, the greater distance the lift travels, the more it will cost. In addition, vertical lifts that are over 6 feet in height are required to be enclosed, have a full-height door at the bottom landing, and either a door or gate at the upper landing. On both landings, the doors must be even with the wall.
Optional Features – Landing gates, customized colors, keyed call / send stations, automatic doors, fire rated doors, and telephones all add to the price.
Indoor vs. Outdoor – Lifts that are installed outdoors need to be weather resistant, which adds to the cost. Also, one may have to pour concrete to have a slab for the lift to be installed on. In addition, one must ensure the area has sufficient drainage to ensure water doesn’t gather under the lift.
Weight – Most platform lifts have a maximum weight between 500 and 750 lbs. For those that need a greater weight capacity, the cost will increase. It’s important to also factor in the weight of the wheelchair when calculating weight needs.
Maintenance – After installation, a certified professional should do a maintenance check once a year.
Purchasing Used Platform Lifts
A used platform lift may make good sense economically, particularly since residential wheelchair lifts are manufactured to last up to 20 or 30 years. One can purchase a refurbished exterior wheelchair lift or house wheelchair lift through reputable dealers. These lifts have been fully inspected and are sold as certified pre-owned, and they often include at least one year of warranty.
One may also purchase an exterior wheelchair lift or house wheelchair lift via the Internet through private owners. While this option may be more affordable than purchasing a refurbished lift, it likely won’t come with warranty and the quality isn’t guaranteed. In addition, one will have to install the lift himself or hire a professional to install it.
Renting Platform Lifts
Renting is another viable option for platform lifts. However, one should consider the amount of time they plan to use it, as purchasing a used one (or new one) may be a better option over the long term. Make note, purchasing used platform lifts or renting used lifts may be complicated since not every staircase is the same and not all spaces are identical. Curved staircases are particularly tricky since these are often custom made to fit one’s home.
Alternatives to Platform Lifts
Unfortunately, the cost of platform lifts may be too high for families who are unable to get financial assistance. That being said, there are alternative options available that are more affordable than inclined and vertical platform lifts.
Portable wheelchair lifts, which can be used on both straight and curved staircases, offer a more temporary solution. Highlights are that they are easy to use and can be used in more than one location. The downside is, typically, they cannot be self-operated.
Ramps and portable wheelchair ramps are another option. One can find portable ramps that are foldable, extend as much as 12 feet, and are only a few hundred dollars. Permanent ramps are more costly than portable ones, but often make more sense, particularly if they will be used long-term. In general, permanent wheelchair ramps cost between $100 and $250 per foot. The downside is the considerable amount of space that is required. More on wheelchair ramps.
Another option is a stair lift, a mechanical device that has a chair attached to a rail, which takes seniors up and down the stairs. On average, stair lifts cost between $2,000 and $7,500. While less expensive than platform lifts, stair lifts are preferable for seniors who have trouble with stairs, but do not need a wheelchair.
Platform Lift Manufacturers
To assist in one’s research of residential wheelchair lifts, several manufacturers are listed below.
Apex Wheelchair Lifts
Butler Mobility Products