This article was reviewed by Senior Director of Community Engagement and COPD360social Community Manager, Bill Clark, as well as certified staff Respiratory Therapists on January 30, 2020.
Dear COPD Coach,
I am unable to get approved through Medicare for a portable oxygen concentrator. I was looking to purchase a used unit on the Internet. What do I need to worry about when buying one this way?
–Looking to buy
You do have some options for getting a used portable oxygen concentrator (POC) just as there are some pitfalls that need to be considered. So with that said, let’s get started.
Just because you find a POC that you can afford, it doesn’t mean that it is the correct unit for you. Portable oxygen is NOT a one size fits all proposition! So the first thing to do, whether you are are buying new or used, is to do the homework to find out what units on the market will work best for you. Nothing could be worse than for you to end up with a unit that does not fully saturate you! To get this advice you need to talk with your pulmonologist, oxygen supplier, and visit the various manufacturers’ websites. You need to find a unit that not only saturates you, but also accommodates your lifestyle — 1.) lightweight enough for you to transport, and 2.) offers enough reserve capacity to address your needs during exertion, exacerbations and worsening of your breathing.
Once you have settled on a unit you need to decide if you want to purchase new, reconditioned or used. There are a number of units available on the Internet that sell for less than you can purchase them for from an oxygen supplier – often far below suggested retail prices. Many Internet suppliers also sell reconditioned units. These units have been rebuilt with new internal batteries and components and most often come with a limited warranty. They also generally sell for about half of what a new unit would cost.
Buying used units from sites like Craigslist can be problematic. The two most common problems with POCs are the internal batteries needing to be replaced, and the sieve beds (the part of the device that absorbs nitrogen) needing to be replaced. Both of these repairs can be costly. In the case of batteries, POC batteries (including the external batteries) are generally good for up to 250 recharge cycles before they start to lose their capacity. The sieve beds are generally replaced when the internal battery is replaced. POC batteries that are left uncharged for long periods of time also lose their capacity.
We get a few calls a year where a family wishes to donate a POC. Often we must decline for one or more of the following reasons: The unit is too old, the batteries are going or are bad, or the cost to replace them (along with the sieve bed) would cost far too much. We just wouldn’t feel it would be safe, or responsible, to allow patients to use them!
If you do decide to purchase a used concentrator, at least do the following:
- MOST IMPORTANT…Make sure the unit will satisfy your oxygen needs.
- Take the unit to your oxygen supplier and ask them to test the purity.
- Inquire if the unit has been kept charged and when the batteries were replaced. If the unit has not been charged for a long period of time, plan on replacing the batteries.
- Run the unit and make sure the batteries will take a charge.
- Ask for any service records on the unit.
- Know beforehand what battery and sieve bed replacement will cost and budget the correct amount (you can also use the information as a bargaining tool).
- Make sure the unit has been well cared for, is clean.
- Stay away from old outdated units! In many cases you will find it difficult to get parts.
What you are going to find on many sales sites like Craigslist is the relative of a deceased family member selling a unit that was stored in a closet for either many months or years. I have also heard of people selling units “garbage picked” from oxygen suppliers garbage or purchased at yard sales – something you should definitely stay away from!
Please know exactly what you are buying before you make the purchase…your health may depend on it!
The COPD Coach
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