Service animals can make a handler’s life much easier and safer. When selling Medicare it’s important to understand the differences between emotional support animals and service dogs for seniors and Medicare eligibles, the responsibilities, and rights of a service animal, and the cost of service animals with Medicare.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1980 (ADA) defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability”. This includes a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. While emotional support animals have their own set of benefits, they differ from service animals.
The main difference between a service animal and an ESA is that a service animal performs a function (opening doors, turning off lights, etc.) while ESAs provide therapeutic benefits. ESAs are not required to receive any training, but service animals are highly trained on an individual basis. People often lump service animals and ESAs together, lowering their credibility. However, by understanding these differences, you can better inform Medicare-eligible beneficiaries of coverage options.
If you have a beneficiary who is interested in obtaining a service animal, it is important they understand the responsibility associated with doing so. As a handler, they are responsible for the care and supervision of the animal. Some people do not realize that if a service animal disrupts a business, the business has the right to deny access to the establishment.
The ADA requires service animals to always use a harness, leash or another tethering device (if the disability doesn’t allow this, voice control will suffice). In addition, the animal must be housebroken and vaccinated in accordance with local and state laws.
If a beneficiary qualifies for a service animal, they must understand their rights. This includes rights among public facilities, employment, housing, and transportation, such as:
Service animals are always allowed in public facilities, even if the building has a no pets policy. Business owners are also prohibited to ask the handler any questions regarding their disability. They can only ask if it is required due to the disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to do.
Employers are prohibited from discriminating due to a disability and must provide reasonable accommodation. This includes allowing a service animal into the work environment. Employers are allowed to ask for documentation.
Similar to employment, if a person has a disability, they cannot be denied housing. Housing establishments are required to provide reasonable accommodation. This can include waiving pet deposits or pet rent.
If someone is traveling with their service animal, they cannot be denied access to transportation. They cannot be forced to sit in any designated area or pay additional fees. This includes air travel. However, if the service animal is causing disruptions, they can be denied access.
A service animal can be very expensive. After vigorous, individually focused training, the service animal can cost as much as $15,000-$30,000. While this may sound unattainable, beneficiaries may qualify for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) paid through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Medicare does not cover the costs of obtaining, feeding or providing veterinary care for service animals. However, disability benefits can provide consistent monthly income that helps lower the overall costs. Additionally, some nonprofit organizations raise, train and offer service animals for reduced costs or even free of charge.
While Medicare may not cover all costs associated with obtaining a service animal, it can help cover the expenses involved in visiting the doctor and gathering the appropriate documentation. By offering plans from several carriers, you can ensure beneficiaries can find a good doctor in their network. At Senior Market Advisors, you can contract with almost every carrier in your state! Ready to contract? Visit agentcontract.com to start digitally contracting, or click here to get in touch with one of our agent advisors.