Medical Alert System Costs & Payment Assistance for Seniors

Medical alert systems are essential if you live alone and are vulnerable. They're often targeted toward seniors, and many consumers are pushed into making a purchase by caregivers, children, and grandchildren. However, these systems have their place in the homes of every vulnerable adult, regardless of their age.

The problem is that they can be quite expensive, often costing upwards of $30 a month and occasionally going as high as $80 per month. That’s at least over $360 a year.

In this guide, we'll look at some of the ways that you can save money when purchasing medical alert systems, as well as some programs that could give you free access.

The Cost of Medical Alert Systems

There are several components to a medical alert subscription, and the problem with buying online or from your local Walmart is that you only see the surface-level costs. For instance, a Walmart medical alert device may cost $100 initially, but if it comes with access to a 24/7 operations center, there's a good chance that you'll be hit with a monthly fee as well.

As for an online purchase, you'll often need to enter the checkout to reveal the hidden costs and understand exactly how much you're being asked to pay. The costs associated with these systems include:

Monthly Charges

If a medical alert system promises access to an emergency response system, it will likely charge a monthly fee. There are very few exceptions, and these apply to the companies that charge a large initial fee (often $800 to $1,200) for what is essentially lifetime access.

The monitoring fee varies depending on the unit and the dealer, but it typically costs around $25 a month for landline units and $35 a month for cellular units. It's a hefty financial responsibility for individuals on a budget, but it's also the thing that makes these services unique and worthwhile.

If you trip, fall, or have a cardiac episode, simply trigger the emergency alert system and get help. Some companies even install microphones around your home to detect criminal activity before triggering an alarm when you are being robbed. 

The monthly fee is often clearly stated, although some companies will round this down to a "price per day" to make it look smaller. In these cases, based on your subscription, you'll still be charged monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Activation Fee

The activation fee is an initial price that you pay when placing your order. These fees are common with providers that offer monthly billing without long-term contracts.

In such cases, you might be paying $20 to $25 per month for a home medical alert system, and because you can cancel after just one month, the company needs to account for that potential loss. It's why many initial fees typically disappear when you pay for an annual contract.

Most activation fees aren’t revealed until you enter the checkout stage, although some companies are more transparent about them.

Shipping and Handling

Apparently, medical alert devices weigh a ton, as most companies charge $19.99 to ship them! You rarely even see this charge until you get to the final step. Of course, they're not actually paying that much and simply want to cover more of their initial costs for monthly subscribers.

Installation Fee and Extras

If the device requires any complicated installation, you could be charged up to $100 to have a technician come and install it for you. You will also be hit with extra charges for purchasing an additional fall detection device, wall-mounted help button, and other accessories.

How to Save 

There are a few ways that you can save money when purchasing a medical alert monitoring service, including:

  • Compare Prices and Services: There are many great medical alert systems out there, so do your research and see which one offers the most suitable product for the lowest price.
  • Pay More at Once: The longer the subscription, the less you will pay, as many companies offer a free month or 2 when you pay annually. They may also waive activation costs and give you a free gift such as a lockbox.
  • Look for Discounts: Discounts appear from time to time and can be significant. At the time of writing, a major medical alert company has reduced the monthly cost of their Wireless Base Unit by so much that it's cheaper than the cost of their more basic units. It’s even cheaper on a month-by-month basis than their annual subscription!
  • Use Money-Back Guarantees: If you don't like the product, send it back. Most companies have 30-day money-back guarantees and phone numbers to call in the event of a return/refund.

How Can I Get Medical Alert Systems for Free?

Medicaid coverage differs from state to state and whether or not it helps with the cost of a medical alert system will depend on your circumstances. However, some seniors can get help, as a number of Medicaid programs include a personal emergency response system among the benefits. Check with your state's guidelines to see if you qualify.

Part A and Part B Medicare won't cover you, but some Medicare Advantage plans provide cover for Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS). The same is true for private insurance plans, but it all depends on the type of coverage that you have.