Does Medicare pay for bathroom safety equipment ?
As our parents get older and more frail, the bathroom can come to represent a considerable challenge in their daily lives. With all the risks of slipping and falling, and I’m sure that you, like my Mom and I, have been frequently looking at bathroom safety equipment and wondering how you will ever manage to pay for it.
Original Medicare Part B does cover some bathroom safety equipment. However, if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, Medicaid, or other sources of state funding, you may be able to get more equipment covered than with Medicare Part B.
So what bathroom safety equipment does Medicare cover ?
Original Medicare will cover walkers, crutches and commode chairs, which can all be used as bathroom safety equipment to help diminish the risk of falling.
However, Medicare will not cover grab bars, non-slip mats, bath lifts, shower chairs, transfer seats or raised seats for the toilet, as it doesn’t consider these to be “medically necessary”, but instead Medicare views them as comfort items.
What can you do if your item isn’t covered ?
If you only have Medicare and they won’t accept your device as “medically necessary” you will either have to pay for the items yourself or improvise.
Funnily enough, rather than me installing grab bars, my mom prefers to use a walker to help her get in and out of the shower, as it can be re-positioned in so many ways. I find she will also use it for other tasks when she needs to stand where there is nothing to hold onto if she’s going to be there a while.
I wouldn’t stand with a walker in the shower unless you have one which is waterproof and for the shower.
If your parent’s shower is large enough you may be able to put a 3 in 1 portable commode chair in it, which is just as easy to sit and wash on, as a shower chair – but only do this if your 3 in 1 commode is waterproof. Commode chairs are covered by Original Medicare, so if you qualify for one this may be an almost cost free solution to a shower chair.
If a portable commode doesn’t fit in the shower, it is perfectly easy to get your loved one to sit on a portable commode chair and help them wash there, instead of in the shower.
Portable commode chairs also come with arm rests, and can be placed over a toilet seat once the potty part has been removed, thus acting as a raised toilet seat, and a very stable one at that.
I had bought a raised toilet seat for my Mom, but she found a portable 3-in-1 commode placed over the toilet to be much more comfortable, and getting on and off using the arm rests proved much easier.
Don’t despair if you can’t get what you want covered under Medicare, there are other options which include funding for quite large equipment, such as walk in bathtubs and low threshold, or roll- in showers, from some different sources for which your loved one’s may qualify.
There are also sources of financial assistance and funding grants if you need to re-model your bathroom for health reasons !
Before I get to those, I am just going to outline the Medicare process, and what you can get.
If you wish to jump ahead to the different sources of coverage and funding, click here.
If you are not sure which safety equipment you require for your loved one, I have a long article with 54 safety tips that I have researched over the years with my mom and dad to make the bathroom a safer place. It includes both practical tips, and items you may wish to look at. You can find that here,
or if you just want to make bathing easier for your parent, and you are learning how to help them wash, you may be interested in this article here.
How does Medicare decide what equipment to cover ?
Original Medicare (Parts A and B) classifies medical equipment for use in the home under the title of “Durable Medical Equipment” or DME’s.
Below I have a list of Durable Medical Equipment covered by Medicare . If you wish to skip ahead to it click here.
For an item to fall under the category of “Durable Medical Equipment” it has to meet some basic criteria:
- Durable (it has to be capable withstanding repeated use over a sustained period of time)
- It has to be employed for a medical reason, as not just for comfort
- Not usually useful to someone who isn’t sick or injured
- It must be used in your home
- It should have an expected lifetime of at least 3 years
If the equipment your loved one wishes to have doesn’t meet these criteria you probably won’t be able to get it covered by Medicare.
In their literature Medicare gives examples of Durable Medical Equipment as walkers, commode chairs, hospital beds and wheelchairs.
How does my parent get their medicare covered DME ?
For your loved one’s purchase of a DME to qualify for Medicare coverage they will need –
- to be enrolled in Medicare Part B
- a prescription signed by their Medicare-enrolled doctor which states the item is “medical necessity”
- to acquire the DME’s through a Medicare-enrolled supplier
If your Mom, or Dad, is claiming DME’s for use at “home”, a hospital or nursing home cannot qualify as their “home” for medicare Part B, however they will be covered under Medicare Part A.
Long-term care facilities, such as assisted living can qualify as a “home” for Medicare part B
What qualifies as a home for Medicare Part B coverage ?
- residing in your own home
- residing in the family home
- residing in the community, such as assisted living
What does your parent do now they have the prescription ?
If Medicare accepts to cover your parent’s DME purchase, your parent will need to pay their annual deductible (if it hasn’t already been met) and a co-payment of 20% of the Medicare-approved price of the purchase. Medicare will then cover the payment of the remaining 80% of the Medicare-approved price.
In the case of cheaper items Medicare will usually purchase the items, but in cases such as hospital beds, it is more likely that they would rent a hospital bed on a monthly basis.
If the item is rented by Medicare from a Medicare-approved supplier who accepts assignment, your loved one will have to pay a monthly co-payment of 20% the Medicare-approved rental price, and Medicare will pay 80%.
What to avoid so that my parent pays the least amount with Medicare ?
For your parent to pay the lowest amount possible, they must be sure that they use a Medicare-enrolled “participating” supplier who accepts “assignment”. This ensures that they are only going to pay their Medicare co-pay of 20% of the Medicare-approved price, plus, if they haven’t already met it, their annual Medicare Part B deductible.
So why is that ? –
Medicare enrolled suppliers fall into two groups –
- Medicare Suppliers
- Medicare “Participating” Suppliers
Medicare “Participating” Suppliers have agreed to what is known as “assignment” – this obliges them to only charge the Medicare-approved price.
So, your parent, when they purchase their durable medical equipment from a Medicare Participating Supplier, will not be paying any more than the 20% co-payment of the Medicare-approved price for the equipment, plus, if they have not yet met it, their annual deductible.
What happens if the supplier is not a Participating Supplier ?
A supplier who is Medicare enrolled, but not a “Participating” Supplier, has agreed to take payment from Medicare, but isn’t obliged to accept “assignment”.
The supplier is then free to add up to 15% to the price of the item, which on higher priced items can make the price considerably higher than the Medicare-approved price, and your parent is the one who pays the excess amount.
Medicare will pay the supplier 80% of the Medicare-approved price, and your parent has to pay the supplier the difference between the Medicare-approved price and the suppliers price + the 20% co-pay of the Medicare-approved price + their annual deductible if they haven’t yet met it.
What if your loved one is receiving treatment in a skilled nursing facility ?
If your parent is being cared for in a Skilled Nursing Facility or hospital, any necessary DME is covered by Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance). The facility will take care of any equipment needed for up to 100 days.
What if your loved one has Medicare Advantage ?
If your loved one has a Medicare Advantage Plan (also known as Medicare Part C) you will need to check with their plan provider about what DME’s they cover.
Advantage Plans are provided by Medicare-approved private companies, and are contracted to offer the same Medicare services as Original Medicare Parts A and B.
By law Advantage Plus plans must provide, at least equal coverage for DME’s as Original Medicare, and will often have extra benefits such as hearing and visual coverage under their plan.
With Advantage Plus plans, like Original Medicare, there is a usually a co-pay, but the rates vary with the provider, and also between the types of services. So, again your loved one must check with your parent’s provider to find out how much it will be.
Your loved one also needs to be aware that Advantage Plan providers will require them to use their network suppliers, and if they don’t use them may find themselves footing the whole bill for the DME’s.
Durable Medical Equipment usually covered by Medicare
- Part A (Hospital Insurance) covers DME’s for beneficiaries who are living in skilled nursing facilities
- Part B (Medical Insurance) covers DME’s for those living at “home” – I outlined the definition of “home” here
Alternating Pressure Pads and Mattresses
Audible/visible Signal Pacemaker Monitor
Pressure reducing beds, mattresses, and mattress overlays used to prevent bed sores
Bed Side Rails
Bed Trapeze – covered if your loved one is confined to their bed and needs one to change position
Blood sugar monitors
Blood sugar (glucose) test strips
Canes (however, white canes for the blind aren’t covered)
Continuous passive motion (CPM) machines
Continuous Positive Pressure Airway Devices, Accessories and Therapy
Cushion Lift Power Seat
Digital Electronic Pacemaker
Electric Hospital beds
Gel Flotation Pads and Mattresses
Glucose Control Solutions
Infusion pumps and supplies (when necessary to administer certain drugs)
Manual wheelchairs and power mobility devices (power wheelchairs or scooters needed for use inside the home)
Mobile Geriatric Chair
Nebulizers and some nebulizer medications (if reasonable and necessary)
Oxygen equipment and accessories
Patient lifts (a medical device used to lift you from a bed or wheelchair)
Postural Drainage Boards
Self-Contained Pacemaker Monitor
Sleep apnea and Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices and accessories
Urinals (autoclavable hospital type)
Whirlpool Bath Equipment – if your loved one is homebound and the pool is medically needed. If your loved one isn’t homebound Medicare will cover the cost of treatments in a hospital.
Free Medicare advice
SHIP – State Health Insurance Assistance Programs – offers free advice on Medicare if you feel you need to talk to someone.
You can call your SHIP and have a chat over the phone.
As well as Medicare, SHIP offers free guidance on Medicare Advantage, Medigap and Medicaid benefits.
To contact your SHIP just use this link here and follow the steps that I have outlined below.
How to get in touch with your SHIP, step by step
Step 2 –
Click on one of the two buttons to find your state – they both lead to the same menu to choose your state.
Step 4 –
The screen will open a window with the contact info and a phone number for you to call in your state.
Does Medicaid cover bathroom safety equipment ?
Yes, Medicaid will cover different bathroom safety equipment, and often the range of equipment is greater than that offered by Medicare. In addition Medicaid often pays the whole amount, leaving you with no deductible or co-pay to make.
What makes medicaid different is that it is funded both at the federal level, and at the state level.
A state can have any number of different Medicaid programs and waivers, each with different eligibility guidelines, resulting in hundreds of programs for Medicaid across the US.
Medicaid in skilled nursing facilities and hospitals
In hospitals and skilled nursing facilities the job of ordering the equipment needed for your loved ones will be handled by the facility. The facility is responsible for meeting a person’s DME needs for up to 100 days.
Medicaid and state programs for in the home
Medicaid programs which are for outside of skilled nursing facilities are called “Home and Community Based Services”, “Waivers” or “1915 Waivers”.
You can get a very in depth explanation of HCBS programs and waivers at the following link to medicaid.gov –
These programs and waivers for services in the home, like Medicare, will also pay for “home medical equipment”, and unlike Medicare, often cover 100% of the cost.
The term “home” for HCBS programs and waivers purposes means that a recipient must be in –
- their own home
- their family home
- a group home
- an assisted living facility
- a custodial care facility
The HCBS programs have been developed to help individuals to live in their own homes, and to provide the care services and equipment needed so that they may be able maintain their independence there.
If your parent needs certain safety equipment to live safely, and they qualify for the program, or waiver, they will usually get that equipment.
There are many state waivers which will allow for home modifications, including bathroom modifications, to adapt the home to the beneficiary’s needs.
The HCBS and Waiver programs do vary from state to state, but most allow for a good range of DME’s, and are often broader in their range than Medicare.
Consumer Direction/ Self Direction
Some waivers allow for a system called “Consumer Direction” or “Self Direction”.
The origin of the system was in “consumer-directed personal care services” run by certain states in the 1990’s which, over time, and with the Affordable Care Act, have developed into what is now called Self Direction by Medicaid.
The beneficiary is given a budget, which they may spend to cover their requirements, under the guidance of a financial planner. The allotted budget can be used to buy products including durable medical equipment. If a walk in bathtub, grab bar, bath lift, or shower chair is considered a medical necessity and is within the allotted budget, they may well be able to have one.
You can find out more about this and the different waivers here at Medicare.gov
Money follows the person
The program Money follows the person was designed specifically to help people to leave nursing facilities, and to return them to their homes, or assisted living facilities.
Durable medical equipment which is required for the persons to return to their homes is bought by the program, so if the beneficiary is deemed by the program to have to have a walk in tub, grab bars, or a bath lift they will most likely get them, as without this equipment they would not be safe if returned home.
What if your revenue is too high for Medicaid assistance ?
If your revenue is too elevated to qualify for Medicaid there are programs in certain states which may help, known as Spend-Down.
The programs are designed to enable a person to lower their income level so they may meet the eligibility criteria for Medicaid.
The programs can do this is several ways.
One method, which is of particular interest to us, allows a person to take their medical expenses away from their income, to lower their income to a point where they will be eligible to for Medicaid assistance.
Here is a link to an article on the subject on the US NEWS website here.
How to go about purchasing items in these Medicaid and state funded programs ?
– get the doctor, or therapist, to provide a medical justification letter, stating that the equipment desired is medically necessary.
– contact a DME supplier, who is Medicaid approved, and give them the medical justification letter form the doctor, or therapist.
– the supplier should fill out a Prior Approval Application.
– the document goes to the Medicaid state office where the purchase is either approved, or denied.
– if the purchase is unsuccessful, you will be notified as to the reasons why, and how to appeal the decision.
– if the purchase is approved you will receive the item.
Find the HCBS programs, waivers and 1915 waivers in your state
The link below will take you to CMS.gov. to look at the different “HCBS programs”, “waivers” and “1915 waivers” offered by your state and Medicaid.
Select your state on the map and it will show you a section with your state waivers and programs, as well as their eligibility criteria – click here.
Step 1 – Find your state on the map.
Step 2 – Click on you state – I chose N.Dakota as an example
Step 3 – You will come to your state and it’s resources, and here you can choose
- your state Medicaid Agency which I marked with a (1), or
- your Home and Community Based Services, Waivers and 1915 Waivers which I marked with a (2)
Below is an example of the type of page you will get if you click on the HCBS programs and waivers link.
You will be able to find out what programs and waivers there are in your state, and what the eligibility criteria are.
How to get bathroom equipment and DME’s covered as a Veteran
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has a range of grants, programs and forms of financial assistance and pensions which will help to cover the cost of DME’s for veterans.
You, or your parent, can find out about their local VA Medical Centers and different clinics and offices in each state here
Below are just some of the different forms of assistance available if your parent is a veteran –
- Grants for remodeling their homes to adapt them due to disabilities inflicted during military service
- Veterans Direct HBCS on which the beneficiary has control over the way the budget is spent, and what it is spent on
- Veterans Pensions – some specific pensions will allow for the purchase of equipment that veterans need for their homes
All of the above will pay for bathroom safety equipment and even bathroom remodeling.
To find your State Medicaid State Agency
Step 1 – Once you have clicked the link to Medicade.gov, just look over to the right on the website page and you will see the section I have outlined in the image below
Step 2 – select your state and click on the button they have marked “GO” – it will take you to your State medicaid Agency, and you will be able to get all the contact info and make calls 0r do emails to get all the help you need.
Is there any other financial assistance my parent can get for bathroom safety equipment ?
Assistive Technology Programs
A national grant is given to all states to be used in “Assistive Technology Programs”. The “programs” are meant to increase access to assistive devices in the home for those who need them.
The elderly are one of the primary groups who are meant to benefit from these projects.
The terms “Assistive Technology” and “DME” are pretty much interchangeable, and it covers all manner of equipment which can help in the home, so bathroom safety equipment is part of this.
Your parent would need to contact the State offices and find out how to apply.
Select you state from the map or from the drop down menu.
Then click on “Go to state”
– I chose Florida for this example
Look “Program Title” and click on it – In this example I outlined it in red.
This takes you to your state AT Program website where you can sign up, or use their contact info to get in touch and find out what they offer to help the elderly.
State Financial Assistance Programs
These are non-Medicaid programs, which exist to lower the number of elderly persons entering Medicaid run nursing homes.
The programs run on a state-by-state basis and are designed to help the elderly to remain living in their homes – not all states have them.
The programs will pay for home modifications and also purchase necessary equipment, which includes bathroom safety equipment and walk in tubs and showers.
Eligibility for the programs differs with each one, but generally they are for the elderly and the disabled.
USDA Rural Development Section 504 Home Repair program
.It is possible for the elderly, to get a grant for bathroom remodeling and safety equipment if they live in a rural area.
This program gives loans to low-income homeowners to “repair, improve or modernize their homes or grants to elderly very-low-income homeowners to remove health and safety hazards.” – source USDA.GOV
The maximum grant is $7500.00, which is also the lifetime limit for grants.
To be eligible for the grant you must –
- be the home owner
- be 62 yrs and over
- have a family income of less than 50% of the local average income
- be unable to repay a home repair loan.
Applications are accepted at any time at local Rural Development offices here.
Protection and Advocacy Programs
These are legal services providing assistance to the elderly who are disputing denied claims.
Original Medicare Part B doesn’t cover much bathroom safety equipment for use in the home, but there are possibilities of getting the equipment through other Veterans, Medicaid and state run programs, and independent state programs and grants, at a time when administrations are doing as much as they can to help the elderly to age in their own homes.
I’m Gareth and I’m the owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.
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