Q. I’m helping my parents make improvements to their home so that it’ll be a safer place for them. Does Medicare pay anything toward the costs of installing grab bars and nonslip flooring or widening doorways? Also, does it cover lifts for people who can no longer get up the stairs?
A. Medicare does not cover these home improvements, even though they’re sensible precautions that may prevent future injuries and therefore could, in the long run, save Medicare money. Medicare considers all these improvements—including stair lifts or elevators for people unable to climb stairs because of their physical condition—as items of convenience rather than of medical necessity.
Medicare’s rules say that “equipment which basically serves comfort or convenience . . . [does] not constitute medical equipment” for coverage purposes. Apart from those mentioned above, other items Medicare does not pay for include bathtub lifts or seats, room heaters, air conditioners, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, electric air cleaners, posture chairs, massage devices, physical fitness equipment, and telephone emergency alert systems.
Exceptions: A few safety devices do count as “durable medical equipment” that Medicare helps pay for in some circumstances. For example, Medicare may cover the rental or purchase of seat lifts that help incapacitated people sit down or get up from a chair. Medicare also covers trapeze bars to help people confined to bed to sit up, change positions, or get in and out of bed. In all cases, for you to get coverage, your doctor must prescribe the equipment as necessary for your medical condition.
Assistance from the VA: The Department of Veterans Affairs has three programs that give cash grants to qualified veterans with disabilities for safety improvements in the home:
- The Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant can be used for improvements such as wheelchair ramps and door widening, lowering kitchen and bathroom counters and sinks, installing elevators and stair lifts, and many more. Maximum grants are currently $4,100 for veterans with a 50 to 100 percent service-connected disability, or $1,200 for veterans with disabilities that are not service related.
- The Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant can be used for substantial housing modifications that help eligible veterans function independently in their own homes. The maximum grant, currently $50,000, is available to veterans who have a permanent and total disability (blindness or loss of limbs) as a result of military service.
- The Special Home Adaptation (SHA) grant can be used for any home improvement that can help veterans with service-connected disabilities increase mobility throughout their homes. Maximum grants are currently $10,000 and are available to veterans who have permanent and total disability (blindness or loss of limbs) as a result of military service.
A qualified veteran can receive both an HISA grant and either an SAH or SHA grant. To apply for the HISA grant, you should complete VA form 10-0103 and send it to your local VA medical center. To apply for an SAH or SHA grant, complete VA form 26-4555 and send it to your VA regional office. For more information, call 1-800-827-1000 or go to the websites on HISA and on SAH/SHA.
Patricia Barry is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.
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Medicare’s Policy on Stair Lifts
Does Medicare cover the cost of stair lifts? It is logical to begin here, as it is a common question relevant to most American seniors. The short, uncomplicated answer is, for all practical purposes, original Medicare does not pay for stair lifts. But Medicare Advantage plans may cover the cost.
There is one possible exception to this rule in regards to original Medicare. Original Medicare might pay for a small portion of the cost if the stair lift has an elevating seat, which helps the rider to sit down and get up from the chair safely. However, such a feature would only be available in a high-end stair chair, which would cost considerably more than the amount original Medicare would reimburse the purchaser. In other words, the amount of financial assistance would be less than the extra cost for a stair lift that has that feature.
Medicare supplemental insurance policies also do not cover stair lifts. These policies are intended to help with co-payments and deductibles for goods and services covered by original Medicare. Since original Medicare does not help, neither would a Supplemental or Medigap policy.
However, as of 2019, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans can offer supplemental healthcare benefits in addition to the already available supplemental benefits, such as vision, dental, and hearing. Previous to this new ruling, services and items that were intended for “daily maintenance” were not allowable benefits. That said, while CMS does not clearly define the term “healthcare benefits,” items and / or services must be medically necessary for the senior in question and advised by a licensed healthcare professional. An item that assists with a functional need due to an injury or health issue, or reduces probable need for emergency care, may fit the bill for an allowable supplemental healthcare benefit. In April of 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) brought more good news with the announcement that Medicare Advantage plans in 2020 will be able to offer supplemental benefits for persons with chronic illnesses. These supplemental benefits, which may be tailored to the specific needs of the chronically ill MA recipient, do not necessarily have to be health related. They only need to provide “a reasonable expectation of improving or maintaining the health or overall function” of that individual. Therefore, it is our interpretation that some Medicare Advantage plans will pay for stair lifts.
Seniors and Medicare beneficiaries can receive free quotes for the purchase and installation of stair lifts.
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As Medicaid policies are different in every state, it is difficult to make a general statement about Medicaid’s coverage of stair lifts. Furthermore, Medicaid offers multiple programs in each state, making the answer still more complicated. However, if we limit the discussion to Medicaid’s policy for the elderly and / or disabled who are living in their homes, the probable answer is yes. Medicaid will likely cover the cost for medically necessary stair lifts. This is provided they enable individuals to remain living in their homes and avoid nursing home placement.
To clarify, states wish to limit the number of persons who enter nursing homes paid for by Medicaid. Therefore, they are willing to provide financial assistance to help Medicaid eligible, nursing home qualified persons remain living at home. If the lack of a stair lift in one’s home would force them to move from the home, then it is likely Medicaid would pay.
If Medicaid in your state covers stair lifts, it will do so through your state’s Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waivers. Waivers are Medicaid non-entitlement programs that help individuals who require a nursing home level of care to remain living at home. Many Medicaid Waivers cover home modifications. And the purchase and installation of a stair lift would be considered a home modification. Therefore, it would be a covered benefit. See a state by state list of HCBS Waivers for home modifications.
Another option is State Plan Medicaid, which may be thought of as regular Medicaid. Regular Medicaid is an entitlement, but usually has more restrictive financial criteria when compared to Waivers. Many states cover durable medical equipment (DME) under their state plan. Under DME, they may cover mobility-enhancing equipment and a stair lift could be classified as such. Medicaid would pay only for the most basic model and the program may cap the amount of assistance an individual can receive. Therefore, the state plan Medicaid program might not cover the full cost.
Assistance for Veterans
The Veterans Administration is somewhat more generous than Medicare when it comes to stair lifts, or stair glides, as they are referred to by the VA. Wheelchair bound veterans and those who cannot otherwise manage the stairs in their homes as a result of a service connected disability can have stair lifts paid for by VA health care. A home visit and a skills evaluation are both necessary before authorization.
There are also options for elderly veterans or their spouses who cannot manage stairs for reasons unrelated to their military service. Many families are already aware of the VA Aid and Attendance benefit, which can be used for care related services. If not, more information is available here.
Lesser known are Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS). These are VA Medical Center-specific programs that help veterans who would otherwise require nursing home level care by providing them with assistance that allows them to remain living in their homes. Some of these services are left up to the veterans’ discretion, hence the phrase, “Veterans Directed.” Under VD-HCBS, should the veteran determine a stair lift is essential to helping him/her remain at home, it would then be an allowable expense.
Yet another option for veterans are grants intended to accommodate for a disability. The SHA Grant and the SAH Grant are intended to pay for home modifications for persons with impaired vision or those who have lost a limb. Notably, HISA Grants, which are available to a wider array of veterans, will not pay for stair-glides
The consequences of a staircase fall are not limited to physical injuries such as broken hips, wrists and concussions. The psychological impact can create anxiety and limit mobility. Both of which have cascading negative effects on the health of the elderly.
State-Based Home Modification Programs
Approximately half the states have non-Medicaid assistance programs that help the elderly remain in their homes. Unfortunately, not all of these programs cover home modifications. While eligibility requirements differ from program to program, typically these programs consider both the applicant’s income and his / her financial assets (as well as physical need). A list of state programs that provide help for home modifications is available here. One must inquire specifically with the program to determine if a stair lift would be an allowable expense.
Other Financial Assistance and Payment Options
- Other possible sources of assistance include low interests or conditional loans from state assistive technology programs. While all states have assistive technology programs (or projects), not every state has a loan program. Contact information for each state’s assistive technology program is available here. Some state programs also offer equipment lending programs. It is possible that some programs could have stair lifts available for long term borrowing. Of course, installation and customization costs would still exist.
- If a family is retro-fitting an entire home to accommodate an elderly or disabled resident with other expensive modifications, such as wheelchair ramps and walk-in tubs, a reverse mortgage might be an option.
- There may be other very localized financial assistance available as well. One should check with their local Area Agency on Aging.
- Some stair lift manufacturers or resellers offer financing which can spread the cost of a stair lift over many months.
- Should the cost of a stair lift come out of pocket, it is tax deductible as a Medical and Dental Expense.
Seniors are eligible to receive free, non-binding quotes for bathroom safety modifications.
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Costs of Stair Lifts
The purchase price of a new stair lift ranges from approximately $2,000 – $7,500. Some manufacturers and resellers include the installation costs in the purchase price and others do not. For those stair lifts that cannot be self-installed, one should expect to pay an additional $500 – $1500 for a professional installation.
Free non-binding quotes are available here.
For an in-depth review of stair lift companies, makes, and models, see our best stair lift page here.
Features Affecting Price
There are many factors and features that can affect the price of a stair lift. Some of the more important ones include:
- Shape of Stairway – straight staircases are the most affordable. Curves and landings can add as much as $3,000 to the purchase price. The width of a staircase may not add to the price, but may limit the models of stair lifts that can be used. Therefore, houses with narrow staircases may be limited to more expensive models. Some staircases may be too narrow to accommodate any stair lift.
- Length of Stairway – most stair lifts provide enough track or rail for about 15 feet of run (distance from base to top, not vertical height). For longer stairways, additional track can be purchased for approximately $50 – $100 per foot.
- Indoor vs. Outdoor – the weatherproofing required for an outdoor lift adds approximately $500 to the purchase price.
- Rider Weight – most stair lifts are designed for individuals up to 200 – 300 lbs. Specially designed bariatric stair lifts can accommodate riders up to 600 lbs. This can add $500 – $2,000 to the cost.
- Chair Features – folding seats, arms, footrests, swivels, padding and upholstery material can add $100 – $400.
- Folding Rail – some houses require that the track fold up at the base or top of the stairs to accommodate for hallways and doorways. Folding segments will add $300 – $500 to the purchase price.
Purchasing Used Stair Lifts
Unlike many home medical products, purchasing a stair lift used makes good sense. The designed lifespan for most stair lifts is approximately ten years, and the average stair lift is only used in the home for three years. For those paying out of pocket, buying used can save 25% – 50% off of purchasing the product new. Buyers can expect a product price of between $500 and $1,500 for a used stair lift. It should be emphasized that unless one is buying from a professional refurbisher, this price very likely does not include installation.
One challenge, when buying used, is with curved staircases. It is much easier to match a straight staircase stair lift to a different house. With curved staircases, very few are exactly alike and buyers may be required to purchase additional pieces of track from the manufacturer to make the stair lift fit their home.
Renting Stair Lifts
Renting a stair lift is also an option, which can be a good alternative to buying one in situations where the foreseen need is short. The option to rent is only available for straight staircase stair lifts and averages between $200 and $500 / month.
Installing a stair lift can be a very straight-forward, do it yourself project or a very complicated, multi-day project requiring both a professional installer and an electrician. Installations tend to be a lot simpler for straight staircases with adequate clearance at the base and top of the stairway. Though challenging for an elderly individual, younger family members and friends with limited construction experience should be able to handle the most basic installations.
New modular stair lift designs allow for the installation of lift chairs on nearly any type of staircase, regardless of length, width, or curvature.
A variety of factors affect the difficulty, and thus, the cost of a stair lift install. Most professionally installed stair lifts cost between $500 and $1,500 for the labor. Some stair lift manufacturers or resellers include the cost of installation in the purchase price of the product. Factors that affect installation cost include:
- Length and shape of staircase.
- Presence of a properly located electrical outlet.
- Presence of doorways or hallways located near the base and top of the stairway.
- Construction material of the stairway. Tile, metal, and concrete stairways are more difficult than wooden stairs.
- Geographic area of the country and the local cost of labor (i.e. San Francisco vs. Kansas).
Alternatives to Stair Lifts
Stair lifts, without financial assistance, can be beyond the reach of many families. Unfortunately, there are very few less expensive alternatives. One option is to install handrails on both sides of the staircase. This narrows the staircase considerably, allowing stair climbers to stabilize themselves from both sides simultaneously. The handrails should extend one foot beyond the top and bottom of the stairway. Though obviously not perfect, this solution should cost less than $200 installed.
A second option is sliding stair rails. These are grab bars, which slide and lock into position in front of the stair climber and move along as they climb or descend. One manufacturer of these products is called StairAid. StairAids, though still fairly expensive, cost approximately 50 percent less than an electric stair lift.
A third option is Stair Blocks. These are blocks approximately one-foot-wide, the width of a stair and one-half the height of a stair. A block is placed on each step and when a user climbs, they alternate between the regular stair and the block. Stair blocks make climbing easier, but the individual still must climb and may still experience a fall. See a video.
Lastly, there are vertical or inclined platform lifts, perhaps better thought of as elevator lifts. Typically, these cost more than stair lifts but can accommodate persons confined to wheelchairs. Learn more.
At a minimum, attention to the lighting and surface texture of stairs can reduce the risk of falling while using staircases.
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Stair Lift Manufacturers
Some common manufacturers of stair lifts are included here to aid the reader in further research.
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How to Pay for a Stair Lift
July 9, 2021
Mobility issues become increasingly prevalent as we age. If you have a multi-level home but prefer to age in place, a stairlift can make that a reality. If the cost makes obtaining a stairlift unreachable, here are a few helpful tips for locating financial assistance for stairlift costs.
Will Medicare Pay for a Stair Lift?
As is the case with most expensive equipment, a common question is, “Will Medicare cover or help with the cost?” In the case of a stairlift the answer is, it depends.
Original Medicare: Although various types of medical equipment are covered under Medicare Part B, Medicare considers a stairlift to be a medical device used for self-help, personal comfort, or convenience. This type of medical equipment is not considered medically necessary. As a result, Medicare does not cover it.
Some Medicare Advantage plans may cover the cost of a stairlift. Medicare Advantage plans are an additional way to receive Medicare coverage. Provided by Medicare-approved, private insurance companies, Medicare Advantage plans are required by law to offer the same coverage as original Medicare. And many plans offer additional benefits. There are several types of Medicare Advantage plans, which have different guidelines and benefits. It’s important to talk with a qualified insurance professional before you decide.
Medicare supplemental (Medigap) insurance does not cover stairlifts. Medicare supplement insurance is designed to assist with deductibles and copays for goods and services that are covered by original Medicare. And since original Medicare does not offer assistance with stairlifts, neither will providers of supplemental or Medigap insurance.
Medicaid may pay for a portion of the cost of a stairlift. Your Medicaid coverage will vary depending on the state where you reside. A licensed healthcare professional will be required to designate the stairlift as medically necessary for you due to health reasons.
The good news is you may be able to have the cost of a stairlift and the installation covered through the Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) program offered through Medicaid. HCBS provides opportunities for Medicaid members to receive health services in their own home rather than at an institution or another outside setting. If you apply and are approved, you will receive a waiver. An HCBS waiver is used to pay for a stairlift and the cost of lift installation.
Stair Lifts and Financial Assistance for Veterans
Source: Rebuilding Together
The Veterans Administration provides funding for home modifications for former or current members of the military. Veterans who cannot climb stairs in their homes because of a service-related disability may have the cost of a stairlift paid for by the Veterans Administration. A patient evaluation and an in-home visit are required before payment authorization is granted. Also, the non-profit organization, Rebuilding Together, provides home modification assistance (materials and labor) to U.S. veterans through the Heroes at Home Program.
Stair Lifts and State Assistance Programs
Your state may have an assistance program in place that provides grants or loans to help you pay for a stairlift. As of mid-2017, 27 states offer assistance programs. The programs are designed to provide free home modifications so seniors and disabled individuals can continue to live in their homes.
Each state’s program has different eligibility requirements. In general, these requirements include:
The applicant must be elderly or disabled. In the U.S., ‘elderly’ is defined as a person aged 65 or older.
The applicant must be living at home, renting a home, or living in a caregiver’s residence. An individual is considered ineligible if they reside in assisted living or a nursing home.
The applicant’s income must fall within the program limits. Select programs also take into consideration the applicant’s full financial resources, including assets.
Examples of state programs you’ll see include:
The CHOICE program in Indiana provides a wide range of assistance for seniors and the disabled from personal care, to assistance with everyday chores, home modifications, and medical supply assistance. All CHOICE services are designed to help the beneficiary live independently or to assist caregivers in taking care of loved ones at home.
Illinois residents can look into assistance from the Illinois Home Accessibility Program (HAP), which provides grants to low-income seniors and disabled persons who are living in the state. The program’s goal is to allow an individual to stay at home by making their home safer and more accessible. In turn, the program helps prevent premature nursing home placement. A wide range of home modifications and repairs are available through the program.
If you are a Georgia resident, get in touch with the Home and Community-Based Services program. This program offers a variety of services to help residents age 60 and older live safely and independently in their own homes. The program’s services include home modification and repair. For more information, contact Georgia County’s Area Agency on Aging (AAA).
To discover what help is available in your state for making home modifications affordable for seniors, locate your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) by visiting Eldercare.gov typing in your city and state, or zip code.
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Q. I have to lift my 101-year-old mother out of her chair every time she needs to get up. Will Medicare help pay for a seat lift for her?
A. Medicare covers the rental or purchase of seat lifts in some circumstances. They must be prescribed by a physician for patients who:
- Have severe arthritis of the hip or knee.
- Have muscular dystrophy or another neuromuscular disease.
- Are apt to experience an improvement in their condition or slow its progress by using a seat lift.
- Have a condition severe enough to confine them to a chair or bed if they don’t have a seat lift.
If your mother’s physician (or nurse practitioner or physician assistant) prescribes a seat lift, he must show that the equipment is essential to her treatment and fill out a Certificate of Medical Necessity, as Medicare requires.
Medicare covers only the type of seat lift that operates smoothly and can be controlled by the patient so that she can stand up and sit down without assistance. (It doesn’t cover the spring-release type that essentially jolts the patient from a sitting to standing position.)
Medicare will help pay for a seat lift—or any other equipment—only if it’s obtained from a supplier enrolled in the Medicare program. To find one, go to Medicare’s home page and click on “Find Suppliers of Medical Equipment in Your Area.”
Patricia Barry is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.
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