How to Get a Free Medical Alert System in 2024 (2024)

Why Do You Need a Medical Alert System?

Medical alert systems stand out as essential tools for enhancing the safety and independence of those who wish to remain in their home to age in place. These devices not only offer a direct line to emergency services but also support a broad spectrum of needs, from medical emergencies to daily assistance, thereby promoting a sense of security for MAS users and their loved ones. People who live alone and have medical conditions that put them at an increased risk for emergencies will benefit the most from MAS.

“I have responded to numerous calls in which the user activated their medical alert device in situations where they did not have access to their phones,” Todd Plumer, a firefighter with South Metro Fire Rescue in Denver, told us.

Helpful Features Available With Medical Alert Systems

Beyond their primary alert function, many systems come equipped with additional features designed to cater to a wider array of user needs and preferences. These enhanced features offer users comprehensive support that extends well beyond emergency situations.

For example, many medical alert systems from brands like Medical Guardian and Bay Alarm Medical include extra features, such as:

  • Fall detection: This feature automatically alerts emergency services or a user’s designated contacts if a fall is detected. It’s a valuable addition considering one in four older adults falls each year. (For more, read our review of the best fall detection devices, and older adult fall statistics you need to know.)
  • Daily check-ins: Schedule well-checks with daily calls or messages from your medical alert system provider’s monitoring team.
  • Activity monitoring: This function monitors physical activity and health metrics like step counting to encourage a healthier lifestyle. Research has shown that increasing daily step counts can help reduce the risk of death.
  • Two-way communication: Users can speak directly with a response center representative to ensure help is tailored to their specific needs, or that false alarms are quickly canceled.
  • GPS tracking: Precise location tracking of the user is vital for emergency situations outside the home or in unfamiliar areas.
  • Medication reminders: These scheduled alerts help users manage their health by reminding them to take their medications at the prescribed times.

Types of Medical Alert Systems

Medical alert systems come in two primary types, each designed to cater to different lifestyles and needs.

At-home medical alert systems consist of a stationary base unit — powered by an electrical outlet with backup batteries and either Wi-Fi or a landline phone connection — that wirelessly connects to a personal emergency button worn by the user. Some emergency buttons also have built-in two-way communication with the call center, but most are small devices limited to a button. This setup is ideal for people who spend most of their time inside their home.

Portable medical alert systems are designed for people who are more active and frequently go out, whether it’s to run errands, socialize, travel or exercise. These devices operate on cellular networks and are often equipped with GPS technology , which allows users to carry their alert system with them wherever they go. This will ensure they have access to emergency assistance both at home and on-the-go.

It’s important to note that portable medical alert systems are dependent on cellular coverage, and may not connect with the monitoring center if they are out of range of a cell tower. Most portable systems are outfitted with GPS technology, which relies on satellite positioning to triangulate the user’s approximate location, but cellular service is necessary for contacting the medical alert help center.

Both types of medical alert systems aim to offer peace of mind and safety. Choosing the one that’s right for you should depend on your lifestyle, activity level and personal preferences.

At-Home Medical Alert Systems

At-home medical alert systems function as a safety net, with a base station connected to the user’s home phone line or a mobile network, a help button that can be worn or carried by the user, and the option to install wall mounted help buttons throughout the home. The base station comes with a wearable emergency button, typically in the form of a pendant or wristband, which the user presses in the case of an emergency. Once activated, the button sends a signal to the base station, which then automatically dials a preset emergency response center and/or designated emergency contacts.

This action initiates a two-way communication feature built into the base station, allowing the user to speak directly with a trained operator (or other pre-programmed contact) who can assess the situation and dispatch appropriate help, whether it’s emergency services or the user’s chosen contacts. This system’s simplicity and direct access to assistance make it a reliable solution for those seeking security in their home environment.

Portable Medical Alert Systems

Portable medical alert systems offer a flexible solution for individuals seeking peace of mind while on the go. These compact, mobile devices operate using cellular networks, enabling them to function anywhere cell service is available. Equipped with built-in GPS technology, portable systems allow emergency responders to accurately locate the user in case of an emergency, regardless of their location.

Users can carry or wear the device, which includes a simple button that when pressed, connects them directly to a monitoring center. This connection facilitates immediate two-way communication with trained professionals who can swiftly assess the situation and coordinate the necessary response. Portable MAS are especially beneficial for active older adults, travelers or anyone who wants the reassurance of immediate help both inside and outside their home.

How Much Do Medical Alert Systems Cost?

The cost of medical alert systems varies widely, reflecting differences in features, services and the type of system — whether at-home or portable. Generally, users can expect to pay a monthly fee that ranges from around $20 to $60 for monitoring services. This fee covers continuous access to a monitoring center that’s ready to respond to any emergencies.

Some providers may also charge an initial setup or activation fee, and if the system uses advanced features like fall detection or GPS tracking, the monthly cost could be higher. Equipment costs are another consideration. While some companies include the equipment as part of the monthly service, others might require a one-time purchase or rental fee of up to $350.

What’s included in the cost goes beyond the physical device and emergency-monitoring services. Depending on the MAS company, subscribers can gain access to 24/7 support from trained professionals capable of assessing situations and dispatching appropriate help. Most plans also include maintenance of the equipment or replacement of battery powered devices, ensuring your system operates effectively without a gap in coverage.

Many MAS providers offer customizable plans. For an additional fee, users can add medication reminders, activity monitoring and daily wellness check-ins. These add-ons can provide a more comprehensive safety net tailored to the individual’s lifestyle and health needs.

Not all medical alert systems connect to a call center, however. The most basic systems contact emergency services directly when the button is pressed or send alerts to the user’s chosen contacts, which are added to the user’s profile when they activate their MAS.

Five Ways to Get a Medical Alert System for Free

Navigating the financial aspects of acquiring a medical alert system can be challenging for those on a tight budget, yet the peace of mind and security these systems provide are invaluable.

Fortunately, several options exist for obtaining a MAS at no cost or a reduced price, making these critical devices more accessible to everyone. From government assistance programs and grants to nonprofit organizations and insurance benefits, a variety of resources are available for those who need a MAS but are concerned about the expense.

This guide will explore these avenues, offering insight into how to secure a MAS without the full financial burden, ensuring that safety and independence remain within reach for all.

1. Medicare Advantage Insurance

Medicare Advantage insurance, also known as Medicare Part C, is a type of health insurance plan in the U.S. that is offered by private insurance companies approved by Medicare. It provides all the benefits included in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), but also often includes additional coverage, such as for prescription drugs, dental, vision and sometimes even benefits tailored to individual health needs, like medical alert systems.

These plans may offer MAS to their members as an added benefit, recognizing the importance of emergency response services in enhancing the safety and well-being of older adults and individuals with chronic health conditions.

For help selecting a plan, you may want to consult with an agent or broker specializing in Medicare Advantage plans. Medicare offers some guidance for selecting a Medicare Advantage agent. You can also request guidance from the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

To get an MAS through Medicare Advantage, individuals must first be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan that includes MAS coverage. Some insurance companies who offer MAS coverage include AARP/United Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield/Anthem, Humana, Kaiser, Aetna and Wellcare.

Reviewing the specifics of your plan’s benefits is important, as coverage for MAS can vary significantly from one plan to another. If your plan offers this benefit, you’ll likely need to obtain the MAS through approved providers to ensure coverage. Contacting your Medicare Advantage provider directly is the best first step, as they can confirm MAS coverage and provide detailed information on the coverage options available, along with any associated costs and the steps necessary to acquire an MAS through the plan.

To learn more, read our previous coverage of how to pay for a medical alert system using medical coverage or discounts through group memberships.

2.Medicaid Waiver

A Medicaid waiver is a provision in the U.S. health care policy that allows states to use funds more flexibly to offer services that are not typically covered under the standard Medicaid program, including medical alert systems for eligible individuals. These waivers aim to provide comprehensive support to people with specific health needs, allowing them to live more independently and safely in their homes or communities rather than in institutional settings.

Through Medicaid waivers, states can tailor services to meet the diverse needs of their populations — including seniors and people with disabilities — by offering critical technologies like medical alert systems.

To obtain an MAS through a Medicaid waiver, you must first determine your eligibility, which can vary widely depending on your state of residence and its specific waiver program. Check the Medicaid state waivers list for information specific to your state. Next, fill out an application to the state’s waiver program. It’s crucial to provide thorough documentation of your health needs and financial situation, as these factors play a significant role in eligibility decisions. Once approved, you can access covered services, including MAS, often at no cost.

Because the availability of services and the application process can be complex, it’s often beneficial to consult with a Medicaid advisor or a health care professional knowledgeable in this area who can provide guidance tailored to your situation.

3. Long-Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance is a type of private insurance policy designed to cover the costs of long-term care services, which can include in-home care, assisted living, respite care, hospice care, nursing home care and other forms of personal and custodial care.

Unlike traditional health insurance, which typically covers short-term medical expenses and hospital stays, long-term care Insurance is focused on providing for the needs of individuals who have a chronic illness, disability or other long-lasting health care requirement. This insurance can be a crucial resource for managing the high costs associated with long-term care, ensuring individuals receive the support they need without depleting their savings.

To secure a medical alert system through long-term care insurance, review your policy details to understand the specific types of equipment and services covered. Many long-term care insurance policies include coverage for durable medical equipment (DME) and may classify MAS as part of this category. If MAS coverage is included, you can proceed by obtaining a prescription or recommendation from your healthcare provider, which insurance companies often require to justify the need for an MAS as a medically necessary device.

The next step involves contacting the insurance provider to file a claim for the MAS, providing all necessary documentation and adhering to the insurer’s procedures for approval.

Given the variation in policies and coverage, it’s advisable to communicate directly with your insurance provider to clarify coverage details, the claim process and any potential out-of-pocket costs before you make an MAS purchase.

4. Area Agency on Aging

Area agencies on aging (AAA) is a network of over 600 organizations across the U.S. that serves to provide support and services to older adults and their caregivers. Established under the Older Americans Act in 1965, AAAs are designed to help older adults live independently in their communities for as long as possible. These agencies offer a broad range of services, including meal programs, in-home care, legal assistance and access to preventive health services. One of the lesser-known services that some AAAs provide is assistance in obtaining medical alert systems for those in need.

To get an MAS through an area agency on aging, start by contacting your local AAA to inquire about available services and eligibility criteria. Each agency operates independently and may offer different programs and resources, so the availability of assistance for acquiring an MAS can vary by location. If your local AAA provides support for MAS, they can guide you through the application process, which may include an assessment of your needs and financial situation to determine eligibility. The AAA may also offer additional resources or referrals to other organizations that can provide financial assistance or discounted MAS for those who qualify.

5. Veterans Affairs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a government-run benefit system dedicated to assisting military veterans with long-term health care needs. The VA provides a comprehensive suite of health care services, including hospital care, medical services and specialty care, as well as other benefits, like disability compensation, education and housing assistance.

Among the many health care services offered, the VA also supports veterans in obtaining medical alert systems to ensure their safety and well-being. This provision recognizes the unique health challenges veterans may face, including injuries sustained during service, chronic health conditions and the general effects of aging.

Veterans interested in obtaining a medical alert system through Veterans Affairs should begin by contacting their VA health care provider or the VA medical center closest to them. The process typically involves a medical evaluation to determine the veteran’s need for an MAS and an assessment of how such a device would support their health and independence. If deemed necessary, the MAS is then prescribed as part of the veteran’s VA health care benefits.

It’s important to note that eligibility and the extent of coverage for an MAS can depend on various factors, including the veteran’s service history, disability status and overall health assessment.
Veterans can also seek assistance through the VA’s prosthetic and sensory aids services, which handles requests for medical equipment and devices.

How to Save Money on a Medical Alert System

If you are unable to acquire a free MAS through the above-mentioned services, you may still be able to get one at a discount. Researching and comparing various MAS providers is key, as costs and features can vary significantly. Discounts, promotional offers and negotiating with providers can also help you to get an MAS at a lower price.

Exploring subsidy programs or grants specifically designed to assist with the purchase of medical alert devices may also substantially lower your costs. It’s worth investing the time to understand the full scope of options available, ensuring you or your loved ones can benefit from the security and peace of mind that an MAS provides without straining your finances.

To save money on a medical alert system, consider the following tips:

  • Compare providers: Look at different MAS providers to find the best combination of price and features.
  • Ask for discounts: Ask providers about discounts for veterans, older adults or members of specific organizations.
  • Annual plans: Paying annually instead of monthly can often reduce the overall cost.
  • Assistance programs: Research local and national programs offering financial assistance for MAS to eligible individuals. Federal benefit programs can be researched through the U.S. government’s benefit finder page.
  • Negotiate terms: Don’t hesitate to negotiate the price or terms of service; some providers may offer lower rates to secure your business.
  • Use referral programs: Some companies offer discounts or free months of service for referring new customers. If a friend or acquaintance buys an MAS on your referral, you can get a break on your subscription fees.

Bottom Line

Medical alert systems offer invaluable peace of mind and security for people seeking to maintain their independence while ensuring safety. While costs can vary, understanding the different types of MAS, how they work and their associated expenses is crucial. Fortunately, numerous options exist to obtain an MAS at no cost or for a significantly reduced price, including through Medicare Advantage, Medicaid waivers, long-term care insurance, area agencies on aging and Veterans Affairs.

Ultimately, the key to accessing this essential technology without creating a significant financial burden on yourself is to research, compare and ask the right questions to find the most suitable MAS solution that meets your needs and budget.

Frequently Asked Questions

Medicare Parts A and Part B, also known as Original Medicare, does not typically cover the cost of an MAS. These parts of Medicare generally focus on covering hospital stays, medical procedures and doctor visits, but do not include medical alert systems as a covered item. However, some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans, which are offered by private insurance companies, may include benefits for MAS.

It’s important to review your specific Medicare Advantage plan details and speak to your insurance company representatives to determine if MAS are covered.

Most medical alert systems require a monthly fee, which covers the cost of 24/7 monitoring services and the use of the equipment. This fee generally ranges from $20 to $60 but can vary widely depending on the provider, the type of system (at-home or portable), and any additional features included, such as fall detection or GPS tracking.

Some organizations or programs may offer MAS at reduced costs or even for free to those who qualify, based on financial need or through specific insurance plans. Contact your local area agencies on aging to find out if a local agency can help you.

AARP, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering Americans age 50 and older, often partners with service providers to offer discounts on various products and services to its members, including medical alert systems. For example, Lifeline offers a discount on monthly subscription fees for AARP members.

Resources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2024). Keep on Your Feet — Preventing Older Adult Falls
  2. National Institutes of Health (2020). Number of steps per day more important than step intensity
  3. Administration for Community Living (2023). Older Americans Act
  4. Medicare.gov. How Original Medicare Works
How to Get a Free Medical Alert System in 2024 (2024)

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