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Medical alert systems are some of the most important pieces of equipment people can own if they have a health condition that threatens their independence. A typical system comes as a wearable bracelet or pendant that communicates over decent ranges with a base unit in the house.
In the event of a medical emergency, the wearer can press a button on the pendant and immediately summon help from a dedicated response center. Even if the person can’t communicate with the operator, emergency services can be dispatched to their exact location.
For people with limited mobility and chronic medical conditions or those who are prone to falling, this can do more than activate the emergency response team when they’re in need. By ensuring a wearer is never more than a button push away from assistance, medical alert systems give peace of mind to seniors and their families, people with disabilities and veterans with conditions that could make living alone more difficult.
More than 1.6 million American veterans currently have a disability rating of 70% or above, and they may benefit from using a medical alert system. This guide helps veterans and their caregivers, family members and other loved ones pick the right medical alert system for them and learn how to apply for and receive a medical alert system free of charge. It includes valuable information about the types of free medical alert systems that are available to veterans through the VA, provided the veteran is an honorably discharged former service member.
Free Medical Alert Systems From the VA
VA Medical Alert Partners
The VA partners with private companies to deliver free medical alert systems to its eligible veterans. The vast majority of systems distributed through the VA come from two authorized suppliers: Latitude USA and MedEquip Alert. While both work toward the same goal, helping veterans stay safe in their homes with advanced communication systems, there are some differences between the two.
Latitude USA offers its products to the general public, but it has a special medical alert system for veterans who order theirs through the VA. This system is built around a lightweight, waterproof call button that can be worn in the shower or in the rain. When activated, the system sends an automated text message to up to six preprogrammed numbers. The pendant doesn’t connect directly with a call center to summon aid, but one of the programmed numbers can be 911.
The Latitude USA system is built to be as simple as possible. Wearers can activate the alert feature by pressing the single button on the front of the pendant, and automatic fall detection is built into the device. The internal GPS reports the wearer’s exact coordinates to the first party to answer the emergency text and opens a speakerphone line. Because 911 has a generally fast response time, this is likely to be the first party contacted. Once on the line, the responding party can verify that the alert is not a false alarm.
In many ways, the personal emergency call system provided by MedEquip Alert is similar to the one offered to veterans from Latitude USA, but it does have a few extra features some users may need. Once activated, the MedEquip system connects to a 24-hour response system where operators can start an emergency response for the user. This center is staffed by U.S.-based certified medical dispatchers who are trained in managing emergencies over an open phone line and in communicating with emergency services.
When activated, the system opens a voice phone line with an operator who can verify the nature of the emergency, forward GPS coordinates to first responders and talk the user through the emergency if they are able to communicate. Voice contact is maintained through the speaker and microphone built into the pendant.
Bear in mind that these aren’t a veteran’s only options for getting a medical alert system. While Latitude USA and MedEquip Alert are the only two providers for which the VA will cover 100% of the cost, veterans can get assistance paying for more expensive systems of their choice. The VA can contribute toward the cost of systems from non-approved vendors, though veterans who opt to go outside of the VA’s provider list may have to pay some or all of their monthly service fee.
How to Qualify for a Free VA Medical Alert System
Senior veterans can start the process of applying for a free medical alert system by asking for a pre-enrollment referral from a VA doctor. This can be done during a routine physical or by special request. During this intake exam, the doctor typically reviews the veteran’s health history and current conditions that justify the use of an alert system.
Senior veterans can ask for a specific alert system during this initial phase. If the applicant and their doctor are especially concerned about falls, they may request a Latitude USA system with automatic fall detection. If the senior prefers contact with a live operator, the VA doctor can recommend the MedEquip system instead. Once the approval is submitted, the VA begins the process of reviewing the applicant’s eligibility and approving the request for a free medical alert system.
Approving the claim generally takes as long as a request for any other piece of durable medical equipment, which is how the alert devices are classified. Once approved, the VA forwards the order for a medical alert system directly to the provider.
After the provider receives the order, it may reach out to the program beneficiary to gather needed information. This is usually normal signup information, such as the enrollee’s name, address and contact information. Both Latitude USA and MedEquip Alert collect beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers and emergency contacts. The provider also needs to keep a current list of medications to inform emergency crews on their way to the senior’s residence. Sensitive personal and medical information is securely held in compliance with federal HIPAA laws.
Other Options for Medical Alert Systems for Veterans
If a senior veteran has needs that go beyond what either of the two VA-approved providers can offer, it’s possible to go outside of the VA’s program and sign up with a different provider. The VA doesn’t directly pay for non-approved systems, but it does offer limited reimbursement for senior veterans who have been approved for the program but opt into a private system. The approval process for reimbursement is basically similar to the application for an approved system, but instead of forwarding the approval to a provider, the VA can notify the beneficiary directly.
Once approved for reimbursement, a beneficiary can reach out to the medical alert system company of their choice and sign up like any other customer. Many providers offer discounts for veterans, and many have low-income discounts for seniors who might otherwise not be able to afford a system. Seniors with Tricare For Life or certain Medicare Part C plans may be able to get help with their portion of the monthly fee for a system through their health insurance.
Why Choose an Outside Provider?
There are several reasons for a senior veteran to opt out of the VA’s provider network and sign up with a company of their own choice. One reason could be personal preference if a beneficiary has a specific company they feel more comfortable with. Another is the list of features not available with VA-approved systems. Both Latitude USA and MedEquip Alert issue very basic systems to veterans who sign up through the VA. Features available with other systems that may only be had by going outside of the VA include:
- Downloadable apps for caregivers
- Wall-mounted call buttons
- Extra pendants on the same account
- Smartwatches and other sophisticated monitoring or call devices
- Coverage for a spouse at no additional cost
- Medication reminders and/or daily check-ins from provider reps
- Fashion pendants that resemble jewelry
Not all applicants need these features, and a basic system through the VA can be perfectly adequate for many beneficiaries. Applicants who do need one or more of these nonstandard features should ask about their options during the intake consultation with their doctor at the VA to decide what type of system to choose.
Options to Pay for Medical Alert Systems for Veterans
Veterans have more than one option to pay for a medical alert system. Apart from direct VA support, senior veterans can pay for their personal emergency call systems in several ways.
|PAYMENT OPTION||DESCRIPTION||HOW TO APPLY|
|Out-of-pocket payment||Veterans who don’t wish to participate in the VA’s free medical alert system program can pay for a system out of pocket. This comes with the greatest flexibility for choosing a system and features, though it’s generally the most expensive choice.||Anybody who can afford a medical alert system can sign up and receive their equipment at any time. This is most often done online through a provider’s website, but many also take orders by phone.|
|Private insurance||Some private insurance carriers pay some or all of the cost of a medical alert system. Policies that include call systems generally have a list of preferred providers and list the benefit as a specific line item in the coverage disclosures.||Policyholders who choose to get a medical alert system through their insurance carrier can usually request a device through their regular medical provider. If the system is a covered benefit, it’s likely to be paid for as a piece of durable medical equipment.|
|Traditional Medicare||Traditional Medicare provides outpatient services and equipment through Part B. For most items, beneficiaries must pay 20% of all approved costs out of pocket, up to their annual cost limit. Though medical alert systems are classed as durable medical equipment, they’re not typically included in the list of medically necessary items Part B benefits cover.||Traditional Medicare beneficiaries can ask their plan representative about coverage for medical alert systems, though this isn’t typically an included benefit.|
|Medicare Advantage||Tens of millions of American seniors choose to get their outpatient benefits (Part B) through the same private insurer that provides their inpatient hospital coverage (Part A). This combined option is known as Part C or Medicare Advantage. Part C plans vary considerably in what they cover, and some policies may include a personal emergency call system for beneficiaries.||Part C participants should speak with a plan representative to make sure their plan covers their preferred alert system|
|Tricare For Life||Tricare For Life provides extended health care coverage to veterans in the years after they separate from the service. The system pays for durable medical equipment, which can include a medical alert system under some circumstances.||Certain types of medical equipment aren’t covered unless specific eligibility criteria are met. Plan participants should speak with their doctor and a Tricare representative to be sure a given alert system is a covered benefit.|
|Medicaid||Medicaid programs vary by state, but most have a personal care attendant option to help seniors remain at home and avoid placement in long-term care for as long as possible. Medicaid beneficiaries who participate in such plans may be able to get a medical alert system at no cost after their copayment, if any.||Medicaid beneficiaries should speak with a program worker about their state’s coverage for alert systems, as well as whether they can enroll in a personal care attendant program.|
|AARP||Many medical alert system providers offer discounts to customers for basic service plans. These discounts may be related to the customer’s age, veteran status or membership in organizations like the AARP.||AARP members can ask about discounts while they are pricing medical alert systems. Some companies allow AARP discounts to be combined with discounts for veterans.|
State-by-State Guide for Free Medical Alert Systems
In addition to various federal and veteran-specific coverage options, senior veterans with qualifying medical or disability-related conditions might get help paying for their call system from the state where they live. The details of each program vary by state. Seniors who need state-level assistance with paying for a medical alert system for veterans should contact their local aid program to see if they qualify.
|STATE||PROGRAM OR WAIVER(S) THAT PROVIDE REDUCED-COST OR FREE MEDICAL ALERT SYSTEMS FOR VETERANS AND OTHER SENIORS||DESCRIPTION|
|Alabama||SAIL Waiver and ACT Waiver||The State of Alabama Independent Living (SAIL) Medicaid waiver has replaced the older Homebound waiver. Eligible seniors must meet the program’s financial and medical requirements. Seniors with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other forms of dementia are considered to have met the medical requirement.
Alabama seniors can apply for a waiver through the Alabama Medicaid office by calling (800) 362-1504.
|Alaska||Alaskans Living Independently||The Alaskans Living Independently (ALI) Medicaid waiver promotes seniors’ independence with caregiver support, home-delivered meals and specialized medical equipment.|
|Arizona||Arizona Long Term Care System and Agency With Choice Program||Arizona’s Elderly & Physical Disability (E/PD) program includes many elements of a standard Medicaid waiver, such as in-home caregiver support and transportation assistance, but the managed care model it follows also includes some nursing home care.|
|Arkansas||Independent Choices and the AR Choices Program||Arkansas Independent Choices (IC) follows the flexible cash-and-counseling model to provide seniors with a maximum of flexibility in how they arrange their care at home.|
|California||Home and Community Based Alternatives Waiver and Multipurpose Senior Services Program||Eligible California applicants must be enrolled in MediCal and meet the financial requirements for the waiver. Applications generally take between two and five months to process, often requiring a home inspection by a program worker, and may be submitted through the California Department of Human Services website.|
|Colorado||Elderly, Blind and Disabled Waiver||Colorado’s Consumer-Directed Attendant Support Services (CDASS) waiver can pay the cost of an in-home caregiver, personal emergency alert system and some home modifications for seniors who need them to remain safely at home.|
|Connecticut||Personal Care Assistant Program||Connecticut offers two waiver programs, which serve residents with age-specific services. The first of these is the Personal Care Assistance (PCA) waiver, which is for adults aged 18-64. The Connecticut Home Care Program for the Elderly (CHCPE) delivers in-home support services without a waiting list for seniors aged 65 and over.|
|Delaware||Diamond State Health Plan Plus||Delaware’s Diamond State Health Plan provides managed care options for seniors who need low- or no-cost health coverage. The state’s long-term care community services program offers to pay for medical and personal care services for eligible seniors living at home, in assisted living and adult foster care, but it does not pay for room and board in assisted living or adult foster care.|
|Florida||State Medicaid Managed Long Term Care||Florida seniors can ask for a screening for home and community based services from their local Area Agency on Aging, or from their county’s Elder Helpline. Intake screening includes a prioritization based on immediate need.|
|Georgia||SOURCE and Community Care Services Program||Georgia’s Service Options Using Resources in a Community Environment (SOURCE) program provides two-tiered support for enrollees of different means. For most seniors, SOURCE offers in-home support services like many other states’ waiver programs. For very low-income seniors, the program can also pay for some nonmedical care services, such as chore help.|
|Hawaii||Med Quest||Hawaii gathers its waiver services into the Med QUEST program. This program pays for many support services that would normally be covered under Medicaid, even in assisted living, but it does not pay for monthly rent, food or extra services seniors may opt into in assisted living.|
|Idaho||Aged & Disabled Waiver||Idaho’s Aged and Disabled waiver has a waiting list for new applications. Seniors interested in the program can check their local waiting list through their local Idaho Department of Health and Welfare regional office.|
|Illinois||HCBS Waiver for Persons who are Elderly, HCBS Waiver for Supported Living, Community Care, HealthChoice Illinois and Medicaid-Medicare Alignment Initiative||Illinois’ Waiver for the Elderly goes by several names, including: Persons who are Elderly Program, the Aging Community Care Program, and the Elderly Waiver. The program operates as a home and community-based service waiver that is open to beneficiaries’ family members.|
|Indiana||Aged and Disabled Waiver||Indiana’s Aged and Disabled (A&D) Medicaid waiver pays personal caregivers, who may be family members or friends of the enrollee, 50-60% of the state’s going rate for nonmedical in-home care services.|
|Iowa||HCBS Elderly Waiver||Iowa’s Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Elderly Medicaid waiver includes a Consumer Choices Option and a Consumer Directed Attendant Care plan. These options give beneficiaries the flexibility to hire their own caregivers and to manage their hours as needed.|
|Kansas||HCBS Waiver for the Frail Elderly||Kansas’ KanCare managed care system has replaced the state’s earlier waiver programs. While most of the services covered by KanCare are delivered under a managed-care model, some self-directed services are also provided.|
|Kentucky||Aged and Disabled Waiver||Kentucky’s Home and Community Based Services Medicaid waiver is open to all state residents who meet the program’s guidelines. Interested seniors can apply for a waiver through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Once enrolled, seniors may be reassessed for continuing need at least once a year.|
|Louisiana||Community Choices Waiver||Louisiana’s Community Choices Waiver (CCW) allows beneficiaries’ family members and friends to move into their homes as full-time caregivers, or for seniors themselves to move into friends’ homes as if they are independent care facilities.|
|Maine||Elderly and Adults with Disabilities||MaineCare’s Elderly and Adults with Disabilities waiver supports seniors with home care, medical alert systems, transportation and chore assistance.|
|Maryland||Community Options Waiver, Community First Choice Program and Increased Community Services Program||Maryland requires seniors to apply for a waiver in different ways, depending on their current living conditions. Seniors who currently live at home can call (844) 627-5465 for information or to apply for a waiver. Seniors who are currently living in a nursing care home are encouraged to apply for a waiver through the Area Agency for Aging in their home county.|
|Massachusetts||Frail Elder Waiver||Massachusetts accepts waiver applications from most of the social services agencies and human service offices in the state. Seniors can apply for placement on the waiver waiting list through any local service agency, or by calling (888) 665-9993.|
|Michigan||Choice Program and Health Link Program||Michigan’s MI Choice has replaced the former HCBS/ED waiver program. Under MI Choice, seniors can get caregiver assistance and some support for care in an adult foster care or a home for the aged.|
|Minnesota||Elderly Waiver and Community Access for Disability Inclusion Waiver||Minnesota’s Medicaid Elderly Waiver (EW) pays for both home and facility care for seniors aged 65 and over who qualify for Medicaid-supported admission to a nursing home. This waiver follows the cash and counseling model, so funds are available to pay for in-home caregiver support. Caregivers may be family or friends of the beneficiary, and under some circumstances they can also be the senior’s spouse.|
|Mississippi||Assisted Living Waiver||Mississippi seniors can get an assisted living waiver from the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, Bureau of Long Term Care. Applications may be submitted by phone at (800) 421-2408.|
|Missouri||No waiver or other state-level program for medical alert systems||Missouri does not have a Medicaid waiver program for seniors.|
|Montana||HCBS Waiver and Self Directed PAS||Montana maintains an active waiting list for its HCBS waiver program. To apply, seniors can call (800) 219-7035. Pre-application screenings are available at no cost through Mountain Pacific Quality Health (MPQH-Montana) at (800) 219-7035.|
|Nebraska||HCBS for Aged & Adults with Disabilities||Nebraska has unusually high costs for nursing home care. Through the Aged and Disabled waiver, the state helps seniors avoid inpatient long-term care with caregiver support, chore services and assistive technology grants. Home and vehicle modifications are also offered under this waiver.|
|Nevada||Frail Elderly and HCBS for Persons with Disabilities and the HCBW for Persons with Physical Disabilities||Nevada’s Frail and Elderly waiver is available through the state’s Aging and Disability offices, which are located in every county.|
|New Hampshire||Choices for Independence||The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Community Based Care Services, Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services takes applications for the state’s HCBS waiver. The office may be reached by phone at (866) 634-9412.|
|New Jersey||Managed Long Term Services and Supports (MLTSS) and Personal Pref. Program||New Jersey’s Medicaid Managed Long Term Services and Supports (MLTSS) program acts as a single point of contact for Medicaid-eligible seniors who wish to simplify their aid profile by getting all their support services from the same source. Under this system, MLTSS acts as a managed-care benefit that may limit choice in favor of simplicity.|
|New Mexico||Centennial Care Community Benefit||New Mexico offers seniors a choice between its Agency-Based Community Benefit (ABCB) care and Self-Directed Community Benefit (SDCB). The former provides for limited care services in participating facilities, while the latter helps pay for in-home support services for seniors who might otherwise require residential nursing care.|
|New York||Long Term Home Health Care Program, Assisted Living Program and Community First Choice Option||New York has several waivers for seniors who wish to stay out of nursing home care. One of these, the MLTC Medicaid Plan, provides personal care in the home and in adult day health care. The PACE plan allows enrolled seniors aged 55 and over who are enrolled in Medicare to receive their support services from medical providers, in addition to non-clinical caregivers.|
|North Carolina||CAP Choice Waiver||North Carolina operates the Community Alternative Program for Disabled Adults (CAP/DA) as an alternative to high-cost nursing home care for Medicaid-qualified seniors who would otherwise need skilled nursing. The program acts as an umbrella for several state waivers that provide support for independent living and some residential services.|
|North Dakota||HCBS Medicaid Waiver||North Dakota offers its home and community based care waiver to seniors who live at home, adult day health care and adult foster care. Included supports cover a personal emergency response system and minor home safety modifications.|
|Ohio||Passport Waiver and MyCare Ohio||Ohio’s Medicaid PASSPORT waiver pays for in-home care and care services provided in adult day health care. In-home services include caregiver support, home-delivered meals and housekeeping. Beneficiaries can get transportation assistance and durable medical equipment through the waiver.|
|Oklahoma||ADvantage Program||Oklahoma’s ADvantage program helps seniors remain at home with services that include: personal care, home safety modifications and adult day health care.|
|Oregon||K Plan||Oregon’s K Plan makes long-term care supports available to Medicaid-qualified seniors. Services include caregiver support, community transportation and durable medical equipment. The K Plan is part of the state’s regular Medicaid coverage and is open to any Oregon residents who qualify for health coverage and need at-home support.|
|Pennsylvania||HCBW for Individuals Aged 60 & Over, Services My Way, and HealthChoices Program||Pennsylvania’s Community HealthChoices (CHC) program is relatively new and replaces earlier waiver programs. Seniors aged 60 and over can participate in the program to get help paying for in-home support and home medical equipment. Access-based home modifications are also provided by the program.|
|Rhode Island||Global Consumer Choice Compact||Rhode Island’s Global Consumer Choice Compact replaces 11 prior waiver programs to give comprehensive support for seniors who wish to stay out of nursing care. Seniors do not have to be fully eligible for Medicaid coverage to participate in the waiver, though income and needs-based criteria are considered as part of the application process.|
|South Carolina||Community Choices Waiver||South Carolina offers a Community Choices program that is sometimes known as the Elderly and Disabled waiver. Seniors enrolled in Healthy Connections, the state’s Medicaid program, can use program benefits to pay in-home caregivers, including family members.|
|South Dakota||HOPE Waiver||South Dakota’s HOPE waiver, formerly called the HCBS or Elderly waiver, supports nursing home-eligible seniors in their homes or in assisted living communities, provided their cost of care is less than 85% of the expected cost for nursing home services. Some benefits vary depending on the type of living arrangement being supported.
It is available on a by-county basis. The numbers are: Rapid City: (855) 315-1986 Pierre: (855) 642-3055 Watertown: (855) 315-1987 Mitchell: (855) 315-1988 and Sioux Falls: (855) 660-0301.
|Tennessee||Choices in Long Term Care||Tennessee administers a comprehensive support program called TennCare CHOICES. Unlike many other states’ waivers, TennCare CHOICES includes some benefits for nursing home admission and residence, though this support is limited in favor of assisted or independent living. The program offers caregiver support, transportation and meal assistance and several non-medical benefits aimed at helping seniors remain as independent as possible.|
|Texas||Star Plus Waiver and Community First Choice Program||Texas operates its STAR+PLUS waiver as a managed care plan, rather than as a traditional self-directed waiver. Participation and benefits are limited by county and by need. Seniors interested in the program should ask a Medicaid worker about the details relevant to their circumstances.
Texas’ STAR+PLUS waivers are available statewide from both the state’s Medicaid agency and through local Area Agencies on Aging.
|Utah||UT New Choices and Aging Waiver||Utah’s New Choices Waiver (NCW) helps seniors currently living in a nursing home, assisted living community or small care facility transition back into their communities with the help of a caregiver. Vouchers are self-directed, which puts the senior receiving the benefit in control of caregivers’ hours and employment. Applications can be submitted by phone at (800) 662-9651.|
|Vermont||Global Commitment to Health Waiver and CFC Moderate Needs Group||Vermont offers eligible seniors support through its Global Commitment to Health (GC) waiver. The GC waiver pays caregiver expenses for seniors aging in place, as well as certain non-care services, such as emergency response system installation and respite care. Some home modifications are also included in the GC program. Seniors can apply by phone at (855) 899-9600.|
|Virginia||Commonwealth Coordinated Care (CCC) Plus Waiver||Virginia’s Commonwealth Coordinated Care Plus Medicaid Waiver, often abbreviated as CCC+ or CCC Plus, is a caregiver support program that works to delay or prevent seniors’ dependence on nursing home care. Adult children of beneficiaries may be enrolled as caregivers, though spouses cannot be.|
|Washington||Community First Choice Option, New Freedom Program, COPES, and Medicaid Alternative Care Program||Washington state’s Community First Choice Option (CFCO) goes beyond just medical expenses to help seniors in the program pay for various care needs that Medicaid would not normally cover. Family members may be hired as caregivers, and services are open to seniors living at home, in assisted living facilities, residential care homes and in adult family homes.|
|Washington, D.C.||Elderly and Persons with Disabilities Waiver||Seniors in the District of Columbia can apply for an EPD waiver by calling the Department of Aging and Community Living’s Aging and Disability Resource Center at (202) 724-5626.|
|West Virginia||No waiver or other state-level program for medical alert systems||West Virginia does not offer a Medicaid waiver for seniors.|
|Wisconsin||IRIS and Family Care||Wisconsin’s Include, Respect, I Self Direct (IRIS) program is a self-directed Medicaid waiver that provides funds for seniors aging in place to hire in-home caregivers, which may include immediate family members. IRIS caregivers are required to pass background checks before payments can be authorized. Seniors can reach the program to apply by calling (888) 515-4747.|
|Wyoming||Community Choices Waiver||Wyoming’s Community Choices waiver is administered by the Division of Healthcare Financing Long Term Care Unit, which can be reached at (855) 203-2936. For questions, applicants can call (855) 203-2823.|