Everything You Need to Know About Durable Medical Equipment (DME)

As we age, we may require assistive equipment to help us do things that were previously simple, such as climbing stairs or standing up from a chair. The majority of older adults have never previously encountered this type of adaptive equipment, and navigating this new world of insurance and vendors can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve assembled this handy guide of everything you need to know about Durable Medical Equipment (DME).

What is DME?

It is important first to understand what “Durable Medical Equipment” (DME) is. According to Wikipedia, DME is “any equipment that provides therapeutic benefits to a patient in need because of certain medical conditions and/or illnesses”, such as wheelchairs, canes, walkers, and ventilators.

Unfortunately, equipment must also fit all of the following usage criteria:

  • provide a therapeutic benefit to a patient in need due to certain medical conditions and/or illnesses
  • be prescribed by a licensed provider
  • not serve primarily as a comfort or convenience item
  • not have significant non-medical uses

So, while a wheelchair is considered DME for one individual, it may not be considered as such for another.

Who Pays for DME?

Unfortunately, Medicare does not typically pay for DME.

Coverage by Medicaid varies state by state, and each state offers multiple Medicaid programs. Medicaid’s policy for seniors and those who reside at home usually cover the cost of certain DME, given it is medically necessary and enables the individual to remain living at home rather than in a nursing home (payingforseniorcare.com).

If Medicaid will cover the necessary equipment, it often does so through a Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waiver. These waivers “provide support and services to individuals who need a level of care equivalent to that provided in a nursing home to assist them in living independently”, such as home modifications (payingforseniorcare.com). Unfortunately, these waivers are not Medicaid entitlements, meaning enrollment in these programs is limited.

For veterans whose disabilities are related to service, VA health care will generally provide financial assistance with a large majority of adaptive equipment and home medical devices. HISA Grants are also available for disabled veterans whose disabilities are not military-related.

Some states have financial assistance programs for elderly or disabled individuals whose income exceeds Medicaid maximums – some of these programs include home modifications, though these programs vary state-to-state.

For those who are ineligible for financial assistance, tax deductions for medical expenses may be the only source of funding.

What Other Options Are There?

While DME Providers offer products that are typically covered by Medicare and/or Medicaid and usually work with insurance to handle payment, many mobilities and accessibility equipment providers exist to fill the gap for equipment that is typically not covered by insurance, or for individuals who do not meet the qualifications for DME use.

Mobility and Accessibility Equipment providers sell residential-use products such as stairlifts, lift chairs, ramps, power scooters, and vertical platform lifts. This equipment provides assistance with common age-related issues, such as going up and downstairs to elevated homes or second-story living quarters, standing up, and walking long distances. Most of these companies sell directly to consumers, circumventing insurance altogether.

While out-of-pocket costs for such equipment may deter some shoppers, it is important to consider the alternative costs of moving into a new home, moving to an eldercare facility, or medical and emotional costs associated with a fall.

How Do I Find a Company I Can Trust?

It is important to look for a company that holds a “Certified Aging in Place Specialist” designation from the National Association of Homebuilders – proof that they have completed training and screening programs relating to home modifications for seniors.

It is also important to identify a trustworthy company with a local presence. Before doing business, research the company online and read reviews. Some online companies may look appealing with their low prices, but without a local presence, they may not be able to install the equipment for you, or they may be unavailable in months or years down the road when your equipment requires repairs or preventative maintenance.

101 Mobility® Charleston is a great example of a trustworthy company. The company has a local office in Charleston, SC, but is backed by a national brand. They also perform free consultations to ensure they are offering customers the best products for their specific needs, followed by installation and service if necessary. They offer a complimentary service warranty for additional peace of mind, and their staff is knowledgeable and caring. Not only do they have a great product offering, but they also have numerous positive reviews online, such as the following:

Brian Clackley has been most helpful. He is well informed about the products and has gone above and beyond to help us find the appropriate products for our needs. Brian is most personable and has earned our confidence in him, the company, and the products.