Portable Oxygen Concentrators: Rent or Buy?
If you or a loved one has recently been prescribed oxygen therapy, you likely have many questions. For starters, what is a portable oxygen concentrator, and how do they work? You’re also likely curious about pricing issues, in addition to how exactly you should go about purchasing one of these devices.
Luckily, your friends at The Senior List are here to keep you in the loop on all things related to portable oxygen concentrators and their pricing. Did you know you can choose to rent rather than buy an oxygen concentrator? Both options have their pros and cons, so let’s jump right in and take a closer look.
Who Is Prescribed Portable Oxygen?
Portable oxygen is prescribed to people who are struggling with low blood oxygen levels. This might be because of a condition such as COPD or asthma, or it could be due to an infection or following an illness or surgery.
Fun Fact: While this article focuses on portable oxygen concentrators, there is a wide range of in-home units available. These tend to offer more power and oxygen volume than their portable counterparts.
In order to get a portable oxygen concentrator, you will need a prescription. The reason for this is that it takes a qualified physician to diagnose the need for oxygen and to decide on the exact amount you need. This figure is measured in LPM’s or liters per minute. Oxygen alone is considered a medical substance, and you should never administer it without proper guidance from a doctor.
What Is A Portable Oxygen Concentrator?
A portable oxygen concentrator is a piece of equipment that’s small enough to carry around with you as you go about your day to day activities. Unlike large oxygen tanks or even today’s stationary concentrators, portable oxygen machines are light enough to take from room to room, outdoors, or even on an airplane.
A portable concentrator draws in air and increases the oxygen saturation of that air. It does this by passing the air via an inlet filter into a compressor and then on to a sieve bed. This process removes nitrogen from the air, leaving it with a much higher oxygen concentration of up to 95 percent.
The portable concentrator gets hooked up to a tube, and the oxygen is delivered via a nasal cannula or a mask. The result is a boost in blood oxygen levels, thus alleviating the symptoms of asthma, COPD, and other breathing-related issues.
The More You Know: The air we breathe is predominately composed of nitrogen, whereas oxygen only makes up about 21 percent of Earth’s air.
Buying a Portable Oxygen Concentrator
As mentioned, the first step to purchasing a portable oxygen concentrator will be receiving your prescription, which will detail how much oxygen you need (measured in liters per minute) and the method of oxygen administration.
There are two ways through which a concentrator can deliver oxygen.
- Pulse Dose: This delivery method senses when you take a breath and pumps out oxygen accordingly.
- Continuous Flow: As the name suggests, continuous flow delivers a constant, steady stream of oxygen to the user.
You can expect to pay around $2500 for a decent concentrator, though some models cost around $2000 and some of the more advanced ones closer to $3500. Inogen portable oxygen concentrators, for example, start at $2,295. Oftentimes, Medicare will cover the cost of your portable oxygen concentrator, depending on where you make your purchase.
For those with lower blood oxygen levels, a portable oxygen concentrator can make a big difference and is an essential piece of equipment. The cost can be a worry, though, so let’s take a closer look at your other option, which is renting.
Renting a Portable Oxygen Concentrator
If you’re worried about the upfront cost of buying a portable oxygen concentrator, renting is one way to spread the cost a bit. Fees vary between suppliers, but in general, you’ll pay around $35 daily or $250 weekly to rent a portable oxygen concentrator. The cost will vary depending on the specific manufacturer and model, so be sure to shop around with different suppliers.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Portable Oxygen Concentrator
Before you go ahead and rent or buy a concentrator, there are a few things we recommend checking out. First, be sure you’re clear on the LPM (liters per minute) you need, so you can make sure your chosen unit delivers that. This information will be detailed on your prescription for portable oxygen.
You’ll also want to check with your doctor about when you need oxygen. Some people need it continuously, while other people need it only when sleeping, first thing in the morning, during exercise, or when out walking.
Finally, be sure to ask whether you need a pulse or continuous flow, something your prescription should also detail. The former releases oxygen only when you breathe, while the latter supplies it constantly. Please note that if you need to use it at the same time as a BiPAP machine, you will need a continuous flow unit.
As well as being clear about your oxygen therapy needs, double-check:
- What kind of batteries the unit takes, and how often you’ll need to charge or replace them. Some units use rechargeable batteries. Inogen’s most recent units, for example, have double battery systems that can power your concentrator for upwards of 13 hours.
- Whether there’s a warranty and how long it lasts.
- Whether the unit is FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approved if you plan to fly with it. Most units will pass this test; however, the last thing you’d want is to run into issues at the airport.
- What kind of cleaning or maintenance the unit needs. Most portable concentrators benefit from the occasional external wipedown, in addition to swabbing of the air vents.
- The volume level if you’re concerned about noise, particularly if you plan to use your concentrator while sleeping. Oftentimes, portable concentrators have a similar volume to a quiet indoor conversation, so they’ll cause little disturbance when you bring them to stores or restaurants.
- The size, weight, and dimensions of the unit. Most portable concentrators come in at around 5lb, which makes them easy to carry anywhere, but you’ll want to be sure you’re happy with the size and weight.
- Which accessories are included, such as spare batteries, cannula, or a carrying case. If these accessories aren’t included, you’ll need to budget for them separately, so remember to factor that in when estimating the cost of renting or buying a unit.
Pros and Cons of Renting and Buying A Portable Oxygen Concentrator
Here is an overview of the benefits and drawbacks of renting your portable oxygen concentrator.
Renting Portable Oxygen Concentrator Pros & Cons
- The up-front costs will be lower.
- You’ll have greater flexibility with regard to returning your concentrator.
- Many companies offer the option of extending your rental agreement.
- Some insurance providers will cover rental but not purchase of a portable oxygen concentrator.
- Several suppliers offer extras such as maintenance or savings on spare batteries as part of a renting deal.
- For temporary oxygen patients, you can save money.
- Often suppliers will offer ongoing maintenance for your concentrator as part of your rental agreement.
- Costs will likely be higher in the long term.
- It could be stressful for some to remember paying every week.
- You’ll have to ship everything back when you’re done with your concentrator.
Concentrator Math: If you pay $250 weekly for a $2500 concentrator, for example, you’ll have paid the full cost of the concentrator in just ten weeks. As most oxygen concentrators are under warranty for at least a year, this isn’t cost-effective.
Buying A Portable Oxygen Concentrator Pros & Cons
- Many suppliers offer financing deals for their concentrators.
- You own your device and don’t have to worry about continued payments.
- Purchases often include bonus accessories such as batteries and carrying bags.
- Many purchases include warranties.
- A solid portable oxygen concentrator will last you for years to come.
- Your upfront costs could be up to several thousand dollars.
- It can be difficult to get a refund for this device once purchased.
- If you only need oxygen for a temporary period, you’ll be stuck with an expensive device.
Over 16 million Americans suffer from COPD, and more than 25 million have asthma. Of course, not everyone with these conditions needs oxygen therapy; however, a portable oxygen concentrator can certainly help many of them. By effectively delivering oxygen to a user, these handy devices can be a great way for people to breathe more comfortably and efficiently, ultimately improving their comfort.
When it comes to buying or renting a portable oxygen concentrator, there’s no right or wrong answer. The best thing is to be armed with a list of your needs and concerns and chat with more than one supplier. A good manufacturer will be more than happy to answer your questions and guide you when making a decision.
Portable Oxygen Concentrator Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the difference between stationary oxygen concentrators and portable units?
Apart from their size, the primary difference between portable and stationary oxygen concentrators is the amount of oxygen they can provide. If a person needs a high amount of oxygen, a doctor will likely recommend a stationary unit, as these can supply much larger amounts of oxygen.
- Can I take my portable oxygen concentrator on a plane?
Many portable oxygen concentrators are FAA approved, meaning they can accompany you on your flights. Be sure to check with your supplier if this is the case.
- Will health insurance cover my portable oxygen concentrator?
Since oxygen is considered durable health equipment, it will likely be covered by Medicare. When it comes to health insurance, most providers will cover these costs as well; however, you’ll want to be sure by checking with your insurance provider.
- Should I purchase a portable oxygen concentrator with continuous flow or pulse dosing?
While only a medical professional can answer this question for you, generally speaking, continuous flow units are heavier. So if mobility issues are a concern, then a pulse dosing unit will cause less issues from its weight. If you plan to use your concentrator while sleeping, then a continuous flow unit will likely suit you better.