Does Medicare Cover Knee Braces?

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Knee braces are an important piece of equipment in an elderly person’s life, especially those with arthritis. Knee braces are covered by Medicare under Part B, just like many other orthotics such as arm, leg, and back braces.

senior woman in a knee brace

However, acquiring and using a knee brace is not as simple as going to the store, picking one out, and getting reimbursed for it later. You must first understand which type of brace you need, how to get one that’s right for you, which braces are and aren’t covered, and how much you’re going to end up paying for it.

Before we cover that, let’s talk about why someone may need a knee brace.

Knee braces are used to help support, stabilize, and rehabilitate the knee when it becomes difficult and painful to walk and move around. They help shift weight from the problem area of the knee to the healthy part. Or, if the whole knee is an issue, a brace helps alleviate pressure all over.

The largest cause of knee problems in elderly people is osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis in America. Around 30 percent of seniors suffer from the condition, and the most-affected joints are the knees. Other leading causes including trauma to the knee and bone spurs.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the padding between joints in your body, such as your knees, wears down over time and causes the joints to rub together. This causes pain, swelling, reduced range of motion, discomfort, and a clicking or cracking sound, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis makes the simple act of moving around on your feet difficult and painful.

This Is Where Knee Braces Can Help. They Have Four Main Functions:

Relieving Pain And Pressure:

This is the primary function of knee braces for the elderly, especially those with arthritis. They can help take the pressure off the joint and reduce pain. In doing this, an elderly person’s independent mobility can increase.

Stabilize The Knee:

If an elderly person injures their knee, a knee brace can help stabilize the area, especially after surgery. Tendons and other structures in the knee need to be stabilized in order to recover, and a knee brace can help with that process.

Rehab The Knee:

Once the knee is stabilized, knee braces can be used to help the knee regain function. While this type of brace also provides stability, it helps make sure the knee is properly healing during the rehab stage.

Prevent Injury:

Athletes make up the majority of people who use knee braces as part of a prevention plan. However, elderly people may use also them if they’re at a higher risk of injuring their knee(s).

Knee braces come in many styles in addition to having various functions. Finding the right style for your condition and pain level is important, because you don’t want to spend money on a brace that isn’t comfortable or helping your condition.

Rigid knee braces are the more stiff, immobilizing braces that help with moderate-to-complete support, whereas semi-rigid braces are a bit more flexible and allow the knee to extend a bit further.

The styles of knee braces include:

Hinged Knee Brace:

There are two types of hinged knee braces: rigid and semi-rigid (also known as soft-hinged). These braces allow for mild-to-maximum support of the knee. Rigid knee braces are the more stiff, immobilizing braces that help with moderate-to-complete support, whereas semi-rigid braces are a bit more flexible and allow the knee to extend a bit further. Hinged braces are made of metal or plastic and have lots of padding to help add comfort and the stability you need.

Wraparound Braces:

These braces wrap around your knee and strap together tightly to help relieve pressure and stabilize the knee. They’re meant to support mild-to-moderate pain.

Knee Sleeves, Straps, And Bandages:

These braces are for the most mild knee issues. Sleeves simply slide from your foot up to your knee. Straps resemble a band that wraps around the center of your knee or just below it to help provide relief. Bandages look similar to tape, and they help keep knees warm, fluid, and stable. All of these provide enough knee stability to help with mild knee issues, but they aren’t mean for daily use.

All of these styles are available in open-patella or closed-patella form. Open-patella braces have a hole where your patella is to help relieve the kneecap of taking all the pressure on your knee. Closed-patella braces help keep the heat in and relieve pain, but these braces are largely found in sleeve and wraparound form.

Not all of these styles are covered by Medicare.

Elderly Woman Wearing Brace

Medicare will cover rigid or semi-rigid knee braces. They’re covered because they’re considered durable medical equipment with the presumption that the brace will hold up for at least three years. This is why sleeves, bandages, straps, and wraparound braces aren’t covered—they most likely won’t last more than three years with daily use.

Your doctor will have to sign a form saying that you need a knee brace in order for you to get one partially paid for by Medicare.

In order have a brace covered by Medicare, it must be deemed medically necessary that you need one, which means you need it to help treat or manage a condition. Your doctor will have to sign a form saying that you need a knee brace in order for you to get one partially paid for by Medicare.

If you want to get a sleeve, wraparound, or other style of brace for a more mild knee condition, you can; it just won’t be covered by Medicare. You can acquire these braces in retail stores or online. If you don’t need a hinged knee brace yet, ask your doctor which style is best for you.

Senior Man

Knee braces are covered under Part B of Medicare, which means that 80 percent of your costs for the durable medical equipment will be covered. You will have to pay the remaining 20 percent once your deductible—$183 for Part B as of 2018—is fully paid for the year. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, the full cost for knee braces may be covered without any out-of-pocket costs.

It’s difficult to determine exactly how much you will end up paying out-of-pocket because knee braces come at varying costs. They range anywhere from less than $100 (for the more mild cases of arthritis) to more than $1,000.

This is where your doctor can help. He or she could have recommendations for affordable, effective knee braces that will be covered by Medicare. Also, your doctor could also send you to an orthotics specialist who can help fit you for a custom knee brace.

If you have any questions regarding knee braces, how to get them, or which ones are covered by your plan, contact your primary care physician, an orthotics specialist covered by Medicare, or your local Social Security Administration office.

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