Stairlifts promise new freedom for you or your loved one with disabilities. The stairs in your own home no longer rise as an invisible fence, baring half the home. Finding the right stairlift is exciting, but there are some questions we should look at along the way—specifically, questions involving Medicare, explains Columbus Walk-In Bath Solutions, a provider of handicap stairlifts in Columbus.

What’s the cost of a stairlift?

Did you try to find the price of a stairlift on a manufacturer’s website? It’s hard to find, isn’t it? This is due to the fact that each stairlift must be custom-built. But in my opinion, these websites also hide the cost to mask the sticker shock—stairlifts run around $2000 to $7000 dollars! That’s the same price as a power wheelchair and you only move a few dozen feet. A stairlift is as expensive as the first trip to the moon in terms of dollars spent per distance traveled! Ouch!

Does Medicare cover stairlifts for those with disabilities?

“Medicare coverage is limited to items and services that are reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of an illness or injury (and within the scope of a Medicare benefit category).”

– Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Under this definition, basic Medicare (Medicare A &B) will not cover stair-lifts—with one special exception. Some high-end stair-lifts include a more advanced chair that qualifies as a patient lift. This type of chair can count as a piece of medical equipment called a Durable Medical Equipment (DME) by Medicare. You can read more about patient lifts here.

So Durable Medical Equipment is covered by basic Medicare. That’s good. However—and this is a big however!—the cost of these specific stair-lifts is significantly higher, negating any financial benefit.

If you have a Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) program, these programs are likely to include covering a portion of the cost of stair-lifts. If you can provide proof (always through writing via a doctor) that a stair-lift will provide, “a reasonable expectation of improving or maintaining the health or overall function of a person” you may be able to receive some coverage. You will have to check your specific program to find out more.

Is maintenance for stairlifts covered?

Most manufacturers include one year of warranty and maintenance in the initial purchase price. After the initial coverage, you will likely be on your own to cover those expenses. Many manufacturers claim their stair-lifts will work for years without problems if properly maintained. Inadequately caring for the battery in the chair is cited as a common preventable maintenance issue.

What about used or refurbished stair lifts?

Some companies sell used or refurbished stair-lifts. Few major stairlift manufacturers sell used or refurbished models so you will have to search for local sellers in your area. Unfortunately, the cost of installation for a used stairlift will be the same as a new one.

If Medicare won’t cover my stairlift and I can’t afford it, what are cheaper options?

Specialized handrails can be installed to assist traversing stairs. These handrails are thicker and sturdier than ordinary handrails. Because these handrails also require installation, they can be several hundred dollars and will not be covered by Medicare.

Another product that can help with stair navigation are small sturdy blocks that are added onto existing steps. These small steps reduce the height of each step, making ascending and descending easier. These also require installation and cost around $45/step on the low end. 

Please note that these non-stair lift suggestions require some mobility in the lower body. If your knees and legs just aren’t up to the task, stairlifts are one of the few products available to meet that need. Perhaps, one day, robotic walking assistance technology will replace stairlifts altogether, but until that day arrives, stairlifts are the most effective way to maintain mobility and independence in a home with stairs. They’re just frustratingly expensive.

Finally, when in doubt about what is or isn’t covered by your Medicare plan, Medicare recommends the following:

  1. Check your red, white, and blue Medicare card.
  2. Check all other insurance cards that you use. Call the phone number on the cards to get more information about the coverage.
  3. Check your Medicare health or drug plan enrollment.
  4. Call us at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

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