Page Reviewed / Updated - Nov. 2018
Does Medicare cover the cost of stair lifts? It is logical to begin here, as it is a common question relevant to most American seniors. The short, uncomplicated answer is, for all practical purposes, original Medicare does not pay for stair lifts, but Medicare Advantage plans may cover the cost.
There is one possible exception to this rule in regards to original Medicare. Original 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 original Medicare would reimburse the purchaser. In other words, the amount of financial assistance would be less than the additional cost for a stair lift that 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 original Medicare. Since, original Medicare does not help, neither would a Supplemental or Medigap policy.
In April of 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released good news when it comes to Medicare Advantage (MA) plans. Starting in 2019, MA plans can include supplemental healthcare benefits in addition to the already available supplemental benefits, such as vision, dental, and hearing. Previous to this new ruling, services and items that were primary intended for “daily maintenance” were not allowable benefits. That said, while CMS does not clearly define the term “healthcare benefits”, items and / or services must be medically necessary for the senior in question and advised by a licensed healthcare professional. An item that assists with a functional need due to an injury or health issue, or reduces probable need for emergency care, may fit the bill for an allowable supplemental healthcare benefit. Therefore, it is our interpretation that some 2019 Medicare Advantage plans will pay for stair lifts. More clarity will be gained as the new MA plans roll out.
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, making the answer still 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.
To clarify, states wish to limit the number of persons who enter nursing homes paid for by Medicaid. Therefore, they are willing to provide financial assistance to help Medicaid eligible, nursing home qualified persons remain living at home. If the lack of a stair lift in one’s home would force them to move from the home, then it is likely Medicaid would pay.
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. Therefore, it would be 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 him/her remain at home, it would then be an allowable expense.
Yet another option for veterans are grants intended to accommodate for a disability. The SHA Grant and the SAH Grant are intended for to pay for home modifications for persons with impaired vision or that have lost a limb. Notably, HISA Grants, which are available to a wider array of veterans, will not pay for stair-glides
Approximately half the states have non-Medicaid assistance programs that 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 his / her financial assets (as well as physical need). A list of state programs that provide help for home modifications is available here. One must inquire specifically with the program to determine if a stair lift would be an allowable expense.
The purchase price of a new stair lift ranges from approximately $1,200 - $4,000. Some manufacturers and resellers include the installation costs in the purchase prices and others do not. For those stair lifts that cannot be self-installed, one should expect to pay an additional $500 - $1500 for a professional installation. More on installations.
Free non-binding quotes are available here.
There are many factors and features that 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 and $1,500 for a used stair lift. It should be emphasized that unless one is buying from a 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, and therefore, the cost of a stair lift install. Most professionally installed stair lifts cost between $500 and $1,500 for the labor. Some stair lift manufacturers or resellers include the cost of installation in the purchase price of the product. Factors that 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 handrails on either side of the staircase. This narrows the staircase considerably, allowing stair climbers to stabilize themselves from both sides simultaneously. The handrails 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 is 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 is 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.