Purchasing durable medical equipment – medical devices used within the home to improve accessibility or perform the tasks of daily life – can be intimidating and expensive. The need for medical supplies often comes as your loved one is dealing with decline or a recent medical issue, which can create additional financial and emotional stress. Understanding the steps of purchasing durable medical equipment can save you and your loved one money and trouble.
Step 1: Get a prescription for durable medical equipment
You might assume your loved one needs something like a walker or a shower chair, but those items must be prescribed by a physician to have any chance of insurance footing the bill. Make an appointment with the doctor to start the process of receiving a diagnosis and prescription of medical equipment. Discuss the challenges of performing daily tasks and what kinds of products would be helpful, and ask if you should look for products with special features (or if the base model will suffice).
Make an appointment with the doctor to start the process of receiving a diagnosis and prescription of medical equipment.
Step 2: Confirm with insurance
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer about whether insurance will cover medical supplies. However, products must be deemed medically necessary for insurance to even consider covering the cost. That means a health care professional must confirm supplies are needed for treatment, and a diagnosis provides that information to insurance.
For example, Medicare Part B covers medically necessary durable medical equipment if your doctor prescribes it for use in your home. That includes (but is not limited to) things like blood sugar meters and test strips, canes, commode chairs, CPAP devices, crutches, hospital beds, oxygen equipment and accessories, walkers, wheelchairs and scooters. Medicare Part B subscribers who have already met the Part B deductible pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount. You can also choose whether you want to rent or buy the equipment.
Once you determine if and what your insurance will cover, ask your insurance company for a list of medical suppliers in your area. And keep in mind that insurance generally only covers the base models—upgrades are often paid out-of-pocket.
…ask your insurance company for a list of medical suppliers in your area.
Where to get durable medical equipment
Your doctor may recommend a medical supply company, but always check with your insurance to determine what’s covered in your loved one’s health insurance plan. Medicare users have access to an online supplier directory to find medical equipment and suppliers near you.
Medicare users have access to an online supplier directory to find medical equipment and suppliers near you.
Many communities also have nonprofit entities to help connect used or donated medical supplies and health equipment to individuals in need. An online search for refurbished medical equipment in your area may also yield results, especially if you need something basic like a walker or cane. It also may be helpful to ask friends and neighbors if they have any of these supplies lying around, especially if you only anticipate needing it for a short time.
An online search for refurbished medical equipment in your area may also yield results, especially if you need something basic like a walker or cane.
Common durable medical equipment items
Wheelchair – The average cost of a new wheelchair is between $500 and $1,500, but models and features can greatly vary.
Hospital bed – Semi-electric beds generally start at $1,500. Renting a hospital bed can be a good option and costs approximately $200-$500 a month. Some companies may charge an initial fee for bed setup and removal.
Nebulizer equipment – A nebulizer is a device prescribed for individuals with asthma. Home nebulizers cost about $50 and up, plus the cost of accessories.
Portable oxygen concentrator – Portable oxygen concentrator prices range from about $1,500 to $2,600, or run about $250 weekly to rent.
Blood glucose monitor – A glucose meter can vary in price but generally starts around $50. Diabetes test strips can cost around $100 a month.
Other money-saving tips
- Shop around! All medical supplier prices are not the same. Do a little research to find the best price.
- Consider your flexible spending account. Durable medical equipment is eligible for reimbursement with a flexible spending account (FSA), health savings account (HSA) and health reimbursement accounts (HRA).
- Consider how much service you need. Internet retailers (like Walgreens, CVS or Amazon) are often able to provide a lower price for durable medical equipment but won’t be able to offer in-home setup, equipment training and customer service.