How do you compare two essentially equal products? That’s the challenge for anyone who is looking for a standard medical alert service that’s monitored and uses the old and reliable base station speakerphone technology.
As an example, I’ll compare Bay Alarm Medical to LifeStation, but I could be comparing any of a number of different companies. I just happen to like these two and I’ve heard from customers that they’ve had good experiences with them.
(Note: the prices listed below may be out of date.)
Here’s the deal. They provide almost exactly the same service.
- The equipment is the same.
- It works the same way.
- The battery lasts the same amount of time.
- The monitoring centers are all UL listed and have current CSAA 5-Diamond certifications.
- Neither company has a contract; you can cancel anytime.
- Both can handle emergency calls in pretty much any language spoken in the world.
- Spouses are free as long as you buy an extra pendant
The differences are small. And in this industry the companies exaggerate small differences because it’s the only way to differentiate themselves from other companies.
Here are the differences:
- Cost: Both are affordable, but LifeStation costs more. Details later.
- Territory: Both services work anywhere in the US where you can get power and a phone connection (landline or VOIP), but LifeStation also works in Canada and Puerto Rico.
- Customer Service Hours: Emergency monitoring is always 24/7 for both companies. For customer service and sales, Bay Alarm is open business hours only. LifeStation is open 24/7. (This makes LifeStation more convenient, but it’s not a dealbreaker. And you’re paying for it with higher monthly fees.)
- Call Center Ownership: LifeStation owns and runs their own monitoring center. Bay Alarm uses contract monitoring centers.
- Number of Call Centers: Bay Alarm uses two call centers in different parts of the country so if something goes wrong with one, the other one is still working. LifeStation just has one call center.
- Number of Agents on Each Call: LifeStation puts two agents on each call so one can talk to the senior while the other activates emergency services. Bay Alarm Medical uses just one, but the caller is never put on hold (you can hear the agent talking to EMS).
- No Monthly Fee Changes: Both companies keep your monthly fee the same for as long as you have the service, except if you’re paying month-to-month at Bay Alarm.
- Refunds on Pre-Payments: For both companies, you can save money by paying for 3 or 12 months in advance. If you cancel, Bay Alarm doesn’t refund the rest of the money. LifeStation refunds you the remaining months. This reduces your risk, but as with the customer service hours, you end up paying more for this.
As you can see in the table below, Bay Alarm is cheaper.
Over 3 years, which can be a typical length of time for people to have a medical alert, this is a difference of $252!
Accessories are also cheaper at Bay Alarm. They sell accessories outright, where LifeStation charges a monthly fee. This ends up being significant.
Take the extra pendant as an example. Buy one of these and your spouse can be covered just the same way you are. At Bay Alarm your total cost of ownership of the pendant is the flat fee of $34.95. At LifeStation you’ll end up paying $3.99 per month, or $143.64. That’s a big difference ($108.69) and it’s pure profit to LifeStation. Similarly, a lockbox that you can buy for $28 at the local hardware store will cost you $107.64 if you lease it from LifeStation for 3 years.
Total Cost of Ownership:
I made a table to compare the total cost of ownership over 3 years, assuming you buy the annual plan from each company, and add a lockbox, 1 extra stationary button for the bathroom, and an extra pendant for your spouse.
Bay Alarm Medical: $787.05 ($0.72 per day)
LifeStation: $1,311.12 ($1.20 per day)
Over 3 years the total difference is $524.07.
What you get for that extra $524 is the ability to use the service in Canada or Puerto Rico, longer customer service hours, and the refund of any unused months on your plan when you cancel.
Of course, if we really want to take the cancellation policy into account, let’s assume that at some point you’ll stop the service (due to death, relocation to a nursing home, etc) and we’ll arbitrarily say it’s the middle of the third year. That keeps your total payment to Bay Alarm the same (though you don’t get $113.10 worth of service you “paid for”), but you’d get a refund from LifeStation of $218, so the total difference in price is now $305.55. Still a big chunk of money!
|Bay Alarm Medical||Lifestation||Notes|
|Territory||All US||All US, Canada, Puerto Rico||(important if you’re in Canada)|
|Works with land line||Yes||Yes|
|Works with VOIP||Yes||Yes|
|Works with cellular||No||No|
|BBB Rating||A||A+||(not a significant difference)|
|Customer service hours||9-5 PST||24/7||(easier to reach LifeStation)|
|Certification||CSAA Five Diamond Certified||CSAA Five Diamond Certified|
|Random UL Inspections||Yes||Yes|
|Owned by Company||No||Yes|
|Located in USA||Yes||Yes|
|Redundant Call Centers||Yes (2)||No|
|Agents handle only emergency calls||Yes||Yes|
|Number of agents on each call||1 agent||2 agents|
|Agent has list of family, friends, neighbors||Yes||Yes|
|Agent has critical medical info||Yes||Yes|
|Call is ever placed on hold||No||No|
|Languages available||170||“Any language”||(basically the same)|
|Type of system||Standard speakerphone style||Standard speakerphone style|
|Use equip to answer a phone call||Yes||Yes|
|Battery backup||32 hours||32 hours|
|UL Listed console||Yes||Yes|
|Automatic weekly test||Yes||Yes|
|Pendant is waterproof?||Yes||Yes|
|Pendant range?||400ft line of sight.||400ft line of sight.|
|Long range pendant available?||Yes. 1000ft. $15 extra||Yes, 1000ft. $?? Extra|
|Battery life pendant||5 yrs||5 yrs|
|Temporary move?||Yes. Call customer service.||Yes. Call customer service.|
|Permanent move?||Yes. Call customer service.||Yes. Call customer service.|
|Equipment is free||Yes||Yes|
|Price: annual prepay||$23.95||$25.95|
|Price: 3mo prepay||$23.95||$27.95|
|Are the rates “introductory rates”?||No. Doesn’t go up.||No. Doesn’t go up.|
|Rates can change?||Rate is locked for lifetime of of use, except on month-to-month plan||Rate is locked on all plans|
|Long term contract||No||No|
|Refunds on prepayments||No. Unused portion is retained.||Yes. Unused portion refunded.|
|Vocal range test as part of setup||Optional||Yes|
|Spouse coverage||Free with 2nd pendant purchase||Free with extra button rental|
|Lockbox||39.95 one time||2.99/mo||Rental is $107 over typical 3-year usage|
|additional pendant||34.95 one time||3.99/mo|
|Wireless wall button||34.95 one time||3.49/mo|
|Vial of life kit||Included free||No|
|911 phone||No||9.99/mo (not recommended)|
|Free shipping||No. Shipping is approx $9.95||Yes|
|Optional fire/smoke/CO protection||Yes (additional charge)||No|
|Phone call notes||Friendly, knowledgeable, didn’t ask for my personal info||Friendly, super knowledgeable, no
pressure until end: asked for phone number or email address.