These days, a cell phone is such an essential part of our life. Not only it helps humans to communicate, by having a cell phone you practically have the whole world in your hand. It also acts like a magic tool where you can do multiple things at once, all in the comfort of your couch. Most of us might use cell phones to study, work, and for entertainment purposes. But did you know that cell phones can also play an important role in saving people’s lives? That’s where free cell phones for seniors on Medicare come into play.
The Importance of Cell Phones for Seniors
During a disaster, it’s proven that access to phone service could help in minimizing the number of fatalities. When it comes to a health-related emergency, a single click on the phone can save not only time but also people you love. The availability of cell phones is especially important for vulnerable groups. It includes senior citizens and people with disabilities. The U.S. government does provide people with low-income families with free cell phones. For seniors on Medicare though, only the qualified ones can get them. They still need to go through a selection process. The screening is necessary since the free cell phone program is income-based. That way, it could leave many seniors phone-less.
Senior citizens are considered one of the most vulnerable groups of people. A lot of seniors are living by themselves. Many of them are even abandoned by their family. The U.S. Census Bureau saw a spike in the population of citizens aged 65 years and older. It went from 40.3 million people in 2010 to more than 54 million people in July 2019. Among them, around 1.4 million people are living in nursing homes. The senior population can grow even more. There has to be a solution that can help senior citizens get the care that they need. One of them is by getting them a free cell phone or providing the best and cheapest cell phone plans for seniors.
What is Medicare?
Before we talk about providing a free cell phone for seniors with Medicare, let’s first define the term mentioned. What is Medicare?
There are two health care programs brought by the U.S. government for its citizen: Medicare and Medicaid. Both have the purpose of making health care more accessible, especially for citizens who need extra care. The programs offer some benefits to help people pay for their medical expenses. While it sounds similar, the two are different in practice.
Medicare is a federal health insurance program. Medicaid is a joint federal and state health assistance program. This means Medicaid is more exclusive than Medicare in terms of area coverage. It also has different eligibility criteria for each state. You must be a resident of the state to qualify for Medicaid.
Medicaid aims to help people with lower income and resources to get the necessary medical treatment. On the other hand, Medicare caters more to the elderly and people with disabilities, whatever their income is. That way, Medicaid’s cost depends on your income while Medicare depends on the coverage plan you choose. Unlike Medicaid that has stricter eligibility criteria, Medicare is looser. The eligibility criteria for Medicare are:
- People 65 or above
- People under 65 with disabilities
- People of any age with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).
If you don’t fall under any of those criteria, you may still be eligible if:
- You have Lou Gehrig’s disease
- You have permanent kidney failure
- You are receiving a disability pension from the Railroad Retirement Board
- You have been entitled to Social Security benefits for at least 24 months
Benefits of Medicare
Medicare also has some plans with certain benefits. You can choose them according to your budget and condition. There are four plans of Medicare:
- Part A, which is also known as Hospital Insurance. It helps cover hospital bills, nursing facility care, hospice care, and home health care. For eligible people, they can get a premium-free Part A.
- Part B which is known as Medical Insurance. It helps cover some medical treatments like vaccines. It also includes health care providers’ services, outpatient care, home health care, and medical equipment.
- Part C, or the Medicare Advantage. This one is an all-in-one plan, as it covers Part A, Part B, and occasionally Part D.
- Part D, which covers prescription drugs. Unlike the other 3, private companies run Part D with the supervision of Medicare.
Part A and Part B are the original Medicare. They cover up to 80% of the health care costs in the health facilities that accept Medicare. Part C is like a bundle deal that gets you both Part A and B, and Part D in some instances. Although you can get Part D on its own, you are automatically qualified for it once you are on Medicaid. As seen above, Medicare only covers health services and certain medical treatments. They don’t pay for things outside that line even if it may help improve the health care services. One of them is what we are discussing: the provision of free cell phones for seniors on Medicare.
How is it funded?
Now you might be wondering where Medicare got their money from. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is the one that manages Medicare. CMS also monitors the Medicaid programs run by the states. According to Medicare.gov, Medicare paid for more than 58 million U.S. citizens in 2017. They spent around $705.9 billion to provide health care for their clients.
Medicare is funded by two trust fund accounts. They are Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund and Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund. The HI Trust Fund mainly got their money from payroll taxes, while the SMI Trust Fund got its funds authorized by the Congress. The two trust funds also have other funding sources such as:
- Interest on the trust fund investments
- Income taxes that are paid on Social Security benefits (HI Trust Fund)
- Medicare Part A premiums (HI Trust Fund)
- Medicare Part B and Part D premiums (SMI Trust Fund)
Different funding sources also mean they cover different medical costs. The HI Trust Fund pays for Medicare Part A benefits and program administration. The SMI Trust Fund covers Part B benefits, Part D benefits, and program administration.
Why is it important to provide free cell phones for seniors on Medicare?
It is necessary to provide seniors with cell phones. In fact, a cell phone is almost a primary need for seniors. Now we are focusing on seniors on Medicare. There is a high chance that being on Medicare means they are often in need of medical treatment. One of the reasons why seniors are on health insurance is due to their declining health. This makes them even more vulnerable to an unwanted situation. We jot down some reasons why providing a free cell phone for seniors with Medicare is a necessity.
As stated before, there are a lot of senior citizens living alone in their homes. Having a cell phone is the most practical way to allow them to reach out for help when they need aid. Although traditional landlines have the same function, cell phone makes everything simpler. No need to remember heaps of numbers, nor run to pick up a call in time. They can keep their phone within a hand’s reach to ensure their safety. It also has a speed dial feature that lets them make an immediate call by pressing a button. No one has time to type all those numbers in an emergency, right?
Mental well being
Another reason is for the sake of their mental wellbeing. It can be very suffocating to stay alone at home, with no one to talk to, especially if they have dementia. That’s why some providers actually design phones for seniors with dementia. Limited social interaction may cause stress on anyone, and the elderly are even more prone to it. The declining health causes the body unable to respond to stress well. This makes coping more difficult for the elderly. By owning a cell phone, they can make a call to their family and friends. It’s also possible to make use of social networks to reach out to their old pals. They can also entertain themselves through simple mobile games or watching YouTube.
Keeping track of seniors
Nowadays smartphones are, well, smart. Many of them have a built-in system where it’s possible to track down its owner. The objects that we can track include location and health. It’s one of the reasons why people want their seniors to own a cell phone. They feel a sense of security while being apart from their seniors. Moreover, age-related memory loss is a common thing to happen.
As their memory is declining, there might be a state where they can’t remember the way back home from the nearest 7-Eleven. When this happens, the location tracking system will be a big help. Some newer phones also have a health tracking feature. It’s possible to monitor basic health conditions such as heart rate and blood oxygen level. Even if it might not be as accurate as of the real health monitoring devices, it can give us the big picture.
Senior-friendly cell phones
Some seniors use a cell phone only for emergencies. Many of them don’t even have the desire to own it for the sake of entertainment purposes. In fact, using a cell phone with various features and technology can be a bother to them.
A senior-friendly cell phone might be a better option for them. The cell phone has been modified to make it easier to use. The sophisticated design and modern interface are no longer there. Instead of a touchscreen, they feature some big buttons and a simplified interface. They turn them into something that the elderly and the disabled can use easily. They emphasize the most important parts of a phone, such as a call and receive button.
The key is practicality. When there is an emergency, the senior users can reach out to people in a matter of seconds.
Features to look for in senior-friendly cell phones
A senior-friendly cell phone at the very least has these features:
- Batteries that last long. Seniors often forget to charge their phones, so the phone needs to have a long term battery.
- Location tracking system to help their family keep an eye on their beloved senior. This is a very important feature especially for seniors with memory issues.
- Health tracking features, as they need to always monitor their health. This feature can record and save the user’s health condition each day. That way, it will be easier to track their progress.
- Practical design. A senior-friendly cell phone needs to understand the need of its users. Features like a large keypad, large icons, and large text make it easier to use. Besides, it will be more comfortable with their eyes.
- Simple navigation that doesn’t require the users to go a long way just to make a call. Seniors tend to prefer seeing simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses with lesser options.
Phones for Seniors
It’s important to note that a senior-friendly cell phone isn’t always less smart than modern smartphones. It’s that it has been adjusted to cater to a more specific audience. Some of the popular senior-friendly phones on the U.S. market are Jitterbug Flip Phone for Seniors and Doro Senior-friendly Phone. Jitterbug Flip Phone has that old flip design.
But there’s always a reason why it’s one of the people’s favorites: simplicity. Jitterbug’s navigation is simple. It uses the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. It doesn’t require the users to think much when using it. While Doro looks more like a smartphone with its touchscreen feature. It has the photo address book feature which allows the users to identify a contact through their photo. These phones also come with more affordable plans that are suitable for an occasional call. Other senior-friendly phones even include services like 5Star Urgent Response.
Getting a free cell phone for seniors with Medicare
The U.S. government actually has a program to provide free cell phones for some of its citizens. That includes low-income seniors and people with disabilities. In fact, the program has been going on for so long – it started in 1980. The government doesn’t necessarily provide free cell phones for seniors on Medicare, though. Rather, they can get it if they qualify the criteria and requirements. It would be great if the government come up with a free cell phone for Medicare clients sometimes later. But for now, we have to settle with it.
One of the programs that offer free cell phones is Lifeline Assistance. At first, it focused to help low-income families get free landline services. As cell phones started to dominate the scene, since 2005 they have been upgrading their program. They have been working with some companies to provide free cell phones and plans. The free cell phone comes with up to 250-minutes airtime per month. As there is a limit to the voice minutes, the user is expected to use it only during an emergency. However, even if you run out of minutes and are in an emergency, you can still use the phone to call 911.
How to qualify for free cell phones
Qualified low-income seniors can get free cell phones and free cell phone service. The qualification criteria can be different in each state. There are two ways to qualify for the program:
- You have to be active in a government assistance program. Some of them that are on the list are Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, and Federal Public Housing Assistance. Medicare is not mentioned. Therefore, being on Medicare doesn’t automatically make you qualify for a free cell phone.
- If you are not participating in any assistance program, you can still qualify by confirming your low-income status. The confirmed income has to be the total household income, and it should be at or below each state’s poverty line.
There may be additional requirements for each state. Make sure you have read through all the requirements. Next, you need to know which participating providers are available in your state. After choosing your preferred provider, you can immediately enroll by phone or on their website. We recommend you to enroll online to save time – you don’t have to wait for an available operator. And that’s the last step! Once they approve your document, you only have to wait for your new phone to arrive. The shipment may take some time from a week to several weeks, depending on the provider companies.
Free Phone Providers
Remember that the Lifeline Assistance is not a provider. They work together with the participating companies who will provide the free cell phones. To make it easier for you, the Lifeline website has prepared a list of providers for you to choose from. They offer various plans from different carriers and you can choose the most suitable one. Some of them are SafeLink Wireless, US Cellular, ReachOut, Assurance Wireless, and of course, AT&T. AT&T Cell Phone Plans for Seniors are some of the most popular in the U.S.
People qualified for the Lifeline program need to keep in mind that the Lifeline service has a limit of one cell phone per household. This doesn’t apply to those living in the nursing homes, though. The service is non-transferable and you may need to stick to one Lifeline service provider. The program is a yearly service, so every year you get to decide whether or not to stay. If you are planning to continue with the program, you will need to resubmit your income verification.
What does a free cell phone cover?
If you qualify for the free cell phone program, expect other things to come with your new cell phone. It depends on your carriers, though. One of the plans offered by SafeLink Wireless comes with a free SIM card, 3GB of data, and a monthly quota of 350 voice minutes. It includes unlimited texts, voicemail, and 911 access. They also offer the SafeLink Keep Your Own Smartphone plan. It lets you keep your current phone and change your plans into a more affordable one. But you need to make sure that your phone is compatible and unlocked. Otherwise, it might not work. First, you need to check what kind of phone work with Safelink.
Another carrier that has the free cell phone program is Life Wireless. When you access their website, they will direct you to the list of the U.S. states. You need to choose your state of residency before you proceed to the next step. That means the plans offered for each state might be different.
We take California as an example. The California Lifeline Plan offers free monthly cost, unlimited minutes, texts, and MMS, and 3GB of data. They also include various services. Some of them are three-way calling, free-roaming charges, and affordable recharge plans. Their main eligibility criterion is income status, although certain residents may be eligible for a free cell phone. They put an income guidelines table on their website that makes it easier to see whether you qualify for the program.
Overall, most of free cell phone carriers provide additional free services to those who qualify for the program. We recommend you to contact your desired provider to know which offer works the best for you.
A cell phone has been considered a primary need for seniors. They are encouraged to own one especially for those with medical conditions. As of now, there is no particular program designed to provide free cell phones for seniors on Medicare. It’s a relief that there is a government program designed to provide free cell phones for vulnerable groups. Besides regular smartphones, they also offer some senior-friendly phones. If you cannot afford a cell phone for your senior, you should consider applying for the program.
If your senior is eligible for the program, it can help you save quite an amount on mobile plans. Remember to check the eligibility criteria in your state, as they might be different for each state. Don’t hesitate to dial the call center and ask for help. Do provide your seniors with cell phones. Who knows that a single click on the phone could save a life and make a huge difference!