The rapid response associated with medical alert systems is key to protecting our frail elderly.

Installation

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The first cost you’ll face is the installation fee. Most medical alert systems require an installation process that is usually performed by a professional from the company. Not every system requires you to pay for installation, but the ones that do could cost you $100 or more.

Some medical alert systems are considered plug-and-play systems, which means you unpack the box, plug it in, and have just a few extra setup steps before the panic button is ready to use. With these systems, you don’t need installation at all.

Some systems don’t require installation, but offer it just in case you need it. If it’s going to take a lot of hard work and effort to get the emergency response system or medical alert devices ready, you may want to pay the additional cost so you can make sure the system’s up and running as quickly as possible. You also may end up avoiding any kind of warranty that’s offered if you don’t take advantage of installation services from the company. Sometimes these installations are done by in-house technicians or done by a local contractor wherever you live.

Finally, some companies require installation services rather than recommending them. These are typically offered when installation is going to require more effort, or at least be intricate or difficult to understand. The costs for these services, however, can be quite expensive. Still, you’ll be able to rest assured that your system is installed properly and is going to work. There’s also usually a warranty on the installation in case something doesn’t work properly or gets damaged during the process of installation.

One-Time Cost: $0–$200

Base System and Accessories

The physical equipment includes the home base system (if your system uses one), the pendant/wristband, and any additional accessories that are included in the original price. This doesn’t include add-ons and extras that you can purchase at an additional cost. For some emergency response systems, there is no cost for these items and you get them included for free in the first month’s cost. These are generally the systems you rent rather than buy from the company, so the cost of the lease is part of the monthly cost (which we’ll explain more about a bit later in this article).

With systems you purchase, you may have to spend a little more. The average cost for the equipment itself is around $100, although different systems may cost more or less. Keep this initial cost in mind when you’re looking at medical alert systems. It’s a start-up cost you’ll need to factor into the price.

Don’t forget this is only a one-time cost and you won’t have to pay it again once you’ve set up the system. Some companies will allow you to pay the cost over several months as you pay your regular monthly bill, which can make payment easier.

One-Time Cost: $0–$100

Subscription

Subscriptions are the guaranteed cost of your medical alert system. This cost will almost always be a monthly subscription service cost that depends on a lot of factors, including the system you choose and the specific upgrades you want. In this section, we’ll cover the usual monthly price without any add-ons or extra features.

Most medical alert systems offer various subscription packages that range in price. For the cheapest of plans, you’ll spend approximately $20 per month. For the more advanced or higher-cost plans, you’ll have a starting cost closer to the $40–$50 range.

Look at your current budget and think about how much you can afford each month. Once you do that, you’ll be able to narrow down which systems will be right for you. Then you’ll be able to decide which features each system provides you with and what you want within your budget.

Some systems provide you with only the bare essentials, like the landline service or cellular service, a base and a single pendant/wristband. Others may offer more features like fall detection, a lockbox, medication reminder, or access to doctors at any time. Remember, we’re talking about base fees at this point, which means the bare minimum plan on any system you get, not the upgraded plans that offer more equipment or features.

Here are some of the top contenders in the market of medical alert systems, and the highlights of what you should know about each.

Investing in a medical alert system gives you, as well as family members, the reassurance that you have access to every kind of emergency assistance available with just the push of a button.

Add-ons

As with most purchases, there are always possible add-ons for medical alert systems, such as extra pendants, wellness checks, GPS location and activity tracking, medication reminders and automatic fall detection. You might also want an upgraded system that’s going to give you more dedicated support.

Make sure the add-on costs fall within your total monthly budget. Individual features can cost anywhere between $5–$20 per month.

When negotiating prices, some companies offer to throw in certain add-ons free of charge in order to earn your business. That’s why it’s always a good idea to inquire about what can be added to your plan on the front end.

Monthly Cost: $0–$50

Support, Repairs, and Replacement

Support is an incredibly important factor when purchasing something that has the potential to save your life. You should inquire whether or not the company selling a medical alert system offers 24-hour support and assistance, which is almost always the case.

It is also a good idea to ask about the support offered for repairs and replacements. That way, you won’t be charged a fee you weren’t expecting if your device needs repairs or replacement. Most brands come with warranty plans that range from one year to a lifetime. There can be quite a discrepancy in the offerings of these plans, so it’s important to ask before making your purchase. Some plans require you to pay $5 to lock in a price covering repairs and installations. Out-of-pocket costs for repairs and replacements can range from $20- $250, depending on the situation.

Cost As Needed: $0–$250

Cancellation Fees

What if you decide to cancel your plan early? You might think you can just get a refund and walk away from the system, but that’s not the case with some. Many systems require you to give notice, which is a way of saying you’re locked into the system for at least an agreed upon length of time. For example, one medical alert company requires 30 days’ notice and doesn’t charge you a cancellation fee if you give them that notice. However, that means you’re giving them another month of payment when you didn’t want to. It’s not technically a cancellation fee, because you’re still getting service for that month, but it’s still paying for something you didn’t really want.

Other services don’t charge a cancellation fee at all, but they do charge “restocking fees” for the products that you return at the end of your use. These fees could cost around $50 just for the company to put your base and pendants back on the shelf for someone else to use when they sign up. Companies don’t consider that a cancellation fee either, but we do.

Finally, some companies don’t allow you to get any money back at all. These plans tell you that if you’ve prepaid for the system for any length of time, you have to use the system for that length of time or you lose the money you’ve paid. That can be expensive if you prepay for a quarter or a year and then decide you don’t like the system or no longer need it.

There are sometimes exceptions to this rule, as some companies will let you out of the contract if you prove that you’ve entered into a nursing home or other facility. In general, though, companies will try to keep your money. If you prepay for a decent length of time, you probably assume you’re going to get a better deal—and you will as long as you don’t cancel early.

One-Time Cost: $20–$50+

Why should someone buy a medical alert system?

There are several reasons why someone would want to buy a medical alert system, with the main ones being that you live alone, are at risk of falling or have fallen before, have a health condition, want to maintain your independence, or want to give yourself and your loved ones peace of mind. Dr. Dan explained, “Investing in a medical alert system gives you, as well as family members, the reassurance that you have access to every kind of emergency assistance available with just the push of a button.”

Does insurance cover medical alert systems?

Unfortunately, most insurance does not typically cover medical alert systems, because they don’t qualify as durable medical equipment, according to Dr. Victoria Glass, an M.D. with a focus on medical research. However, Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) often does, as well as certain Medicaid plans by state. Also according to Dan, discounts via AARP are often available, and local community resources may also be a source of coverage.

Who would be an ideal candidate for a medical alert system?

According to Dan, the ideal candidate for a medical alert system is someone who lives alone and wants added protection in the event of an emergency. “Seniors who want to remain independent but who may have a fear of falling, poor hearing or eyesight and/or declining cognitive function (Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc.) will most benefit from medical alert systems, as they allow for increased independence, quick assistance, and are customizable,” he said. “These systems are easy-to-use and bring peace of mind to seniors who want to remain living safely at home for as long as possible.”

Does Tricare cover medical alert systems?

No, Tricare does not typically cover medical alert systems.

Are medical alert systems worth it?

There has never been a more pertinent time to purchase a medical alert system, as we are still in the throes of a global pandemic. Should a situation ever arise where you or someone you love requires immediate assistance, a medical alert system can provide it, potentially saving a life.

Can I get a free medical alert system?

You may be able to apply to receive a free medical alert system from your local Area Agency on Aging. However, if you go this route, you will likely be responsible for the monthly payments, as well as any add-ons. The agency can also make suggestions regarding any potential grants you can apply for to receive a free medical alert system.

Which medical alert system providers have the lowest rates?

For $20 per month, BayCare and others provide basic medical alert system service.

Sources:

Falls are leading cause of injury and death in older Americans. (2016). CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0922-older-adult-falls.html

About Life Alert. (2021). Life Alert. http://www.lifealert.com/about.aspx
Nonfatal Bathroom Injuries Among Persons Aged ≥15 Years. (2011). CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6022a1.htm