Ballpark Estimate: $25 to $50 per month
You know all too well that living alone can pose serious risks when you’re elderly or infirm. If you (or someone you care about) are at increased risk for illness or injury, a medical alert system can provide the peace of mind you need so you can remain in your own home.
Medical alert systems come in different shapes and sizes, but most will enable you to call for help in an emergency without needing to dial the phone.
Suppose you’ve fallen and you can’t get up to reach your phone. Or you’ve slipped in the tub and are unable to get up. You could experience a serious medical problem and suddenly can’t talk. These and many other possible scenarios can make it essential to have a medical alert system in place to let someone know that something is wrong.
A medical alert system, also called a personal emergency response system, can fill in the void when living alone. This medical alert system is simple to install in your home (often using your existing phone lines) and when you need it, all you need to do is press a panic button (or in some cases call out for help), and an operator will hear you and summon an ambulance or other help to come your home.
A Range of Options
Not all medical alert systems are created equal. There are several different kinds of medical alert systems on the market today and they provide a range of services. What you select will depend on your health status, your needs, your budget and your comfort level.
Monitored medical alert systems are most common type. These are medical alert systems that are manned by a trained person at the other end of the transmitter who can respond should you need assistance. Most monitored medical alert systems will usually have the following key components, along with some optional accessories:
- The main base, which is connected to your regular phone jack. This is the link that connects you to an operator at a call center.
- A portable two-way radio transmitter that you can wear around your neck, wrist or belt. This contains a panic button you can press in the event of an emergency. (Some systems allow you to talk through this transmitter, while others only enable you to send a signal.)
- A remote monitoring center, where an operator will be available round-the-clock to respond when you need help.
More Elaborate Options
In some of the more elaborate medical alert systems, the medical alert base unit can allow an operator to monitor your home around the clock. This means that if you fall or become ill, you can call out in the room, and the operator will hear you through the two-way base unit. This ensures that even if you have an emergency and are unable to talk, if the operator hears any worrisome sounds, she’ll call out to you to verify that you’re okay. If you don’t respond, she’ll dispatch emergency personnel right away to check on you. Some medical alert systems also include a camera component in your home so in the event that you can’t speak, the call center will be able to see you.
An Unmonitored System
If you prefer an unmonitored medical alert system, which doesn’t have a two-way transmitter included, the way this alternative works is that in an emergency you’ll push a button on the medical pendant or base and it will connect to your base unit. In this medical alert system, instead of linking you to an operator, it will then automatically dial several pre-set emergency numbers (such as your family members, the police or the fire department) and play a pre-recorded message requesting help.
How to Find
When you set out to explore medical alert systems, there are a number of resources available to help your search, such as the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons (AARP) and through the Visiting Nurse Associations of America (VNAA). You can also ask your doctor for suggestions of where you might find medical alert companies in your area or look in the yellow pages. You can also do a search online for companies. Just make sure any system you’re considering is registered with the Better Business Bureau and doesn’t have any complaints filed against them. You can check out Medical Alert Advice, which offers a comparison of several of the main medical alert companies in this field. You can visit websites such as the MedicAlert Foundation, Rescue Alert, Senior Safety, and Personal Senior Monitor, to get some ideas of the types of medical alert systems available and what they entail. If you have a home security and fire monitoring system already installed in your home, you can also check with your company to find out if they have any medical alert options you can add on to what you already have.
Things to Consider
When comparing medical alert companies, some of the factors you’ll need to consider include:
- Who mans the response medical alert call center? (Is it handled by the medical alert company itself or is it brokered out to someone else?)
- How are the medical alert phone operators trained?
- Are medical alert calls the main focus of the call center, or do the same people also handle other types of security and fire calls?
- What hours are the medical alert operators on call?
- Is there ever a time that a live medical alert person wouldn’t be available to answer a call?
- How are the medical alert response units and panic buttons maintained? Will they be replaced if they break?
- Do you need to buy the medical alert monitoring equipment or can you lease it? Which option is more cost-effective?
- How far will the medical alert transmitter signal reach if you’re away from the base?
- How reliable is the medical alert connection?
- What is the billing policy and schedule? (Some charge monthly, quarterly or annually.) Is there one price up front that covers everything (the medical alert equipment and monitoring) or will you pay a deposit and then be responsible for a monthly medical alert monitoring charge?
- Will you be required to sign a contract for a specific length of time?
- Are there any additional fees not specified up front?
What It Costs
What you’ll spend on a medical alert system depends on the type you select and the features that you get.
Here are some basics to consider. If you select a medical alert monitored system, you can expect to pay an installation fee (some companies will waive this expense). You’ll also usually need to pay for the medical alert monitoring service, which generally includes leasing the medical alert equipment. This can be billed monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the medical alert company’s terms. Here are some possible scenarios you might encounter:
- A medical alert system installation charge, which usually costs between $100 and $200.
- The medical alert equipment and monitoring fee, which when calculated monthly will usually cost between $25 to $50 a month.
- If the medical alert company has you buy the equipment outright, this will cost between $200 and $300, then the monthly fee for monitoring will be a little less since it doesn’t include the rental charge. In this case, you can expect the cost to be about $20 a month.
- A few medical alert companies operate by requiring a one-time payment that includes the equipment and unlimited monitoring, so it will all be paid at once. This usually costs in the $800 to $1,000 range.
- An unmonitored medical alert system will usually require you to buy the equipment outright, and there usually won’t be any additional fees. This costs from $200 to $350.
You can expect a cost between $25 and $50 a month for a medical alert system and monitoring. (Installation may be extra.) An unmonitored medical alert system costs between $250 and $350, which is often paid in full up front.
The cost of a medical alert system isn’t covered under most private insurance plans or Medicare. However, if you need a system and can’t afford it on your own, you can check with your doctor or your local office of aging to find out what assistance is available to help subsidize the cost.