Page Reviewed / Updated - May 2016
Does Medicare cover the cost of stair lifts? It is logical to begin here as it is a very common question. The short, uncomplicated answer is, for all practical purposes, Medicare does not pay for stair lifts.
The one possible exception to this rule is Medicare might pay for a small portion of the cost if the stair lift has an elevating seat which helps the rider to sit down and get up from the chair safely. However, such a feature would only be available in a high-end stair chair which would cost considerably more than the amount Medicare would reimburse the purchaser. In other words, the amount of financial assistance would be less than the additional cost for a stair lift which has that feature.
Medicare supplemental insurance policies also do not cover stair lifts. These policies are intended to help with co-payments and deductibles for goods and services covered by Medicare. Since, Medicare does not help, neither would a Supplemental or Medigap policy.
As Medicaid policies are different in every state, it is difficult to make a general statement about Medicaid's coverage of stair lifts. Furthermore, Medicaid offers multiple programs in each state, still making the question more complicated. However, if we limit the discussion to Medicaid's policy for the elderly and / or disabled who are living in their homes, the probable answer is yes, Medicaid will likely cover the cost for medically necessary, stair lifts provided they enable individuals to remain living in their homes and avoid nursing home placement.
If Medicaid in your state covers stair lifts, it will do so through your state's Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waivers. Waivers are Medicaid non-entitlement programs that help individuals who require a nursing home level of care to remain living at home. Many Medicaid Waivers cover home modifications and the purchase and installation of a stair lift would be considered a home modification and therefore a covered benefit. See a state by state list of HCBS Waivers for home modifications.
Another option is State Plan Medicaid, which may be thought of as regular Medicaid. Regular Medicaid is an entitlement, but usually has more restrictive financial criteria when compared to Waivers. Many states cover durable medical equipment (DME) under their state plan. Under DME, they may cover mobility-enhancing equipment and a stair lift could be classified as such. Medicaid would pay only for the most basic model and the program may cap the amount of assistance an individual can receive. Therefore, state plan Medicaid program might not cover the full cost.
The Veteran's Administration is somewhat more generous than Medicare when it comes to stair lifts or stair glides as they are referred to by the VA. Wheelchair bound veterans and those who cannot otherwise manage the stairs in their homes as a result of a service connected disability can have stair lifts paid for by VA health care. A home visit and a skills evaluation are both necessary prior to authorization.
There are also options for elderly veterans or their spouses who cannot manage stairs for reasons unrelated to their military service. Many families are already aware of the VA Aid and Attendance benefit which can be used for care related services. If not, more information is available here. Lesser known are Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS). These are VA Medical Center-specific programs that help veterans who would otherwise require nursing home level care by providing them with assistance that allows them to remain living in their homes. Some of these services are left up to the veterans' discretion, hence the phrase Veterans Directed. Under VD-HCBS, should the veteran determine a stair lift is essential to helping them remain in their home, it would then be an allowable expense.
Yet another option for veterans are grants intended to accommodate for a disability. HISA Grants are applicable to the widest number of veterans as they do not require that one's disability be born from an injury experienced during their military service. Also available, though to a narrower range of individuals, are the SHA Grant and the SAH Grant.
Approximately half the states have non-Medicaid assistance programs which help the elderly remain in the homes. Unfortunately, not all of these programs cover home modifications. While eligibility requirements differ from program to program, typically these programs consider both the applicant's income and their financial assets (as well as their physical need). A list of state programs which provide help for home modifications is available here. One must inquire specifically with the program if a stair lift would be an allowable expense.
The purchase price of a new stair lift ranges from approximately $1,000 - $3,000. Some manufacturers and resellers include the installation costs in the purchase prices and others do not. For those stair lifts which cannot be self-installed, one should expect to pay an additional $500 - $1000 for a professional installation. More on installations.
Free non-binding quotes are available here.
There are many factors and features which can affect the price of a stair lift. Some of the more important ones include:
Unlike many home medical products, purchasing a stair lift used, makes good sense. The designed lifespan for most stair lifts is approximately ten years and the average stair lift is only used in the home for three years. For those paying out of pocket, buying used can save 25% - 50% off of purchasing the product new. Buyers can expect a product price of between $500 - $1,500 for a used stair lift. It should be emphasized that unless one is buying from professional refurbisher, this price very likely does not include installation.
One challenge, when buying used, is with curved staircases. It is much easier to match a straight staircase stair lift to a different house. With curved staircases, very few are exactly alike and buyers may be required to purchase additional pieces of track from the manufacturer to make the stair lift fit their home.
Installing a stair lift can be a very straight-forward, do it yourself project or a very complicated, multi-day project requiring both a professional installer and an electrician. Installations tend to be a lot more simple for straight staircases with adequate clearance at the base and top of the stairway. Though challenging for an elderly individual, younger family members and friends with limited construction experience should be able to handle the most basic installations.
A variety of factors affect the difficulty therefore the cost of a stair lift install. Most professionally installed stair lifts cost between $500 and $1,000 for the labor. Some stair lift manufacturers or resellers include the cost of installation in the purchase price of the product. Factors which affect installation cost include:
Stair lifts, without financial assistance, can be beyond the reach of many families. Unfortunately, there are very few, less expensive alternatives. One option is to install hand rails on either side of the staircase. This narrows the staircase considerably allowing the stair climber to stabilize themselves from both sides simultaneously. The hand rails should extend one foot beyond the top and bottom of the stairway. Though obviously not perfect, this solution should cost less than $200 installed.
A second option are sliding stair rails. These are grab bars which slide and lock into position in front of the stair climber and move along as they climb or descend. One manufacturer of these products is called StairAid. StairAids, though still fairly expensive, cost approximately 50 percent less than an electric stair lift.
A third option are Stair Blocks. These are blocks approximately one-foot-wide, the width of a stair and one-half the height of a stair. A block is placed on each step and when a user climbs, they alternative between the regular stair and the block. Stair blocks make climbing easier, but the individual still must climb and is able to experience a fall. See a video.
Lastly, there are vertical or inclined platform lifts, perhaps better thought of as elevator lifts. Typically these cost more than stair lifts but can accommodate persons confined to wheelchairs. Learn more.
At a minimum, attention to the lighting and surface texture of stairs can reduce the risk of falling on staircases.
Some common manufacturers of stair lifts are included here to aid the reader in further research.