Dear Dr. Mahler:
I want to know your thoughts on a portable oxygen concentrator. I am 72 and have some trips planned this summer. Two people at my pulmonary rehab program have these and like them very much.
My doctor has told me that I have severe COPD, and I use two different inhalers. My oxygen is set at 3 on pulse with activities and when I exercise. When I sleep, I use a home concentrator at a setting of 2. I have talked to the company that provides my oxygen, but the man said that they do not carry portable oxygen concentrators. He said that I will have to buy one. Please help.
Patrick from Albany, NY
Your question about a portable oxygen concentrator is a frequent one that I receive in my practice. I will first address the situation how Medicare pays companies for providing oxygen to those who require it. This information helps you to understand how things work. Then, I will briefly describe some issues that you should consider if you decide to buy a portable oxygen concentrator. I will try to keep it simple even though is somewhat complicated.
How Medicare Pays for Oxygen
All types of oxygen are rented from a respiratory supply company. Once you qualify for oxygen by your health care provider, the company provides the oxygen to you, and then bills Medicare a monthly fixed rental fee. Medicare pays the oxygen company a monthly rental fee (from $140 to $200 per month depending on where you live) for 3 years and then a small “service fee” for the next 2 years. The oxygen company is required to maintain the equipment for a total of 5 years.
In 2013, Medicare reduced payment for portable oxygen concentrators by almost 50%. Due to this reduction in payment, many oxygen supply companies have told some individuals that Medicare does not cover a portable oxygen concentrator. The bottom line is that some oxygen companies do not believe that Medicare pays enough for the costs of a portable oxygen concentrator and therefore do not deal with them.
So, you should first talk to the respiratory supply company as you have done. If the company cannot provide the system, then you may consider buying a portable oxygen concentrator.
Types of Portable Oxygen Concentrators
The key features that you should consider are: weight; type of oxygen flow – pulse or continuous; available oxygen flow rates; how long the battery lasts; and cost.
One of the smallest is called the Airsep Focus that weighs 1.75 pounds, allows 2 liter/min pulse flow, and the battery lasts 3 hours.
A medium sized concentrator is the Respironics SimplyGo which weighs 9.5 pounds and can be carried with a strap over the shoulder. It provides pulse flow rates of 1 – 6 liters/min and continuous flow at 1 – 2 liters/min. The battery lasts about 3.5 hours at 2 liters/min pulse flow and 1 hour at 2 liters/min continuous flow.
Bigger oxygen concentrators allow higher flow rates and longer battery time. They can be placed
on a cart with wheels and can be pulled. One of the heaviest ones is the SeQual Eclipse 5 which weighs 18.4 pounds, allows 1 – 9 liters/min pulse flow and up to 3 liters/min continuous flow. Battery time is up to 5 hours if pulse flow is used and 2 hours for continuous flow.
These are only three examples of many available portable oxygen concentrators. You should consider which features are most important for your use. Also, you may wish to rent one from a respiratory supply company before buying.
Good luck on finding the best portable oxygen concentrator for your needs.
Donald A. Mahler, M.D.