HELP When you can't afford sleep apnea equipment

By Tracy Latest Activity February 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm Views 13,838 Replies 1



Sleep apnea is a life threatening condition that must be treated. What do you do when you have lost your job or insurance coverage, or just cannot afford the deductable and co-pay to buy new or replace necessary equipment? What if you suspect you have sleep apnea but can’t afford the diagnostic testing?

Today’s economy puts us all in vicarious situations. Some of us are feeling desperate and may not make wise choices in acquiring used equipment. There is help out there if you know where to look. Ask for a little help from your friends.


Many hospital systems have charitable programs, foundations or assistance with monthly payments for services rendered. They don’t advertise these programs, so you have to call their accounting or patient care services to inquire. Qualification will vary from institution to institution.

Overnight sleep studies (PSG) can be expensive. If you suspect sleep apnea, consider a home study. They are reliable, a fraction of the cost of a PSG and many are now covered by insurance. Discuss this option with your physician. One such reputable organization is Instant Diagnostic Systems. For more information visit their web site:


First and foremost, take care of the equipment you already own. Machines need routine filter changes and a simple wipe down of the outer casing with a slightly damp cloth on occasion. Have your machine checked yearly, with a manometer, to make sure it’s putting out the correct prescribed pressure. Local home health care providers should do this service at no charge. Note the warranty expiration date of your sleep apnea equipment. Make sure to have your machine checked thoroughly before warranty period ends.

Masks may appear as indestructible pieces of plastic with cloth straps, but they’re not. Great care is taken in the engineering process and high quality materials are chosen to achieve a superior seal and durability. Many of us raise our eyebrows at the cost of masks, but when I learned what went in to research and development, and the high standards the manufactures insist on, I was far more appreciative and much more careful with my sleep apnea equipment.

Just like you, I take my condition seriously and I want the best products available to treat my condition. Sure, cost is a consideration, but my health comes first and I want the best I can afford. Even if I can’t afford it, I want the best quality and I want proven performance. I deserve it and so do you! I respect my expensive equipment and treat it like gold so that it lasts as long as possible.

Nearly all manufacturer defects for masks will be apparent within the first days or weeks of use and well within the warranty time limit. Don't leave your equipment vulnerable and within the reach of pets and small children; your mask is not a toy. Just because it looks like a sturdy piece of plastic, it is an intricately made medical product and should be handled carefully. When you’re on a lake fishing and don’t get a bite, do you throw your $500 reel on the floor of the boat in anger? After an evening out on the town would you yank off your $1,000 gold chain necklace and throw it in a drawer?

The Medicare replacement schedule provides a cushion or mask about every 3 months. Private insurance typically allows replacement every 6 months. Everyone’s insurance schedule will vary. The soft mask cushion that lies against our face is fragile. Handle with care for a longer life. Remove make-up at night, place mask on clean skin; skin free of oils and moisturizers. Wash your masks routinely with a gentle pressure on the cushion, not a forceful rub and be careful not to cut the cushion with your fingernails. Let mask air dry.

Tubing – should be replaced annually or more often if needed. Tiny holes can develop that are hard to see with the naked eye. These holes can compromise the proper delivery of prescribed and adequate pressure. Pets seem to love cpap tubing, especially cat claws and tiny teeth. A tubing cover will protect the hose.

Filters – are inexpensive yet will greatly add to the life of your machine. Replace as needed when visibly discolored and dirty, just as you would your home air and furnace filters.


Flow generators – CPAP, AutoCPAP and Bilevel machines are FDA controlled medical devices. This is important, so let me state again, sleep apnea equipment are FDA controlled medical devices that REQUIRE A PRESCRIPTION from a licensed physician. RX for a medication states a precise dose for a particular patient. An RX for a cpap states a precise pressure for a particular patient. You cannot legally buy drugs on the internet or elsewhere without a prescription - same is true for sleep apnea equipment.

Although machines may be available here and there on the internet via auctions, this venue is often illegal / black market and unethical UNLESS the auction is conducted by a reputable home healthcare dealer who responsibly requires a prescription to complete the transaction and then sets that machine per physician order. A reputable home health suppler will assure a new or used machine is in good working order, set properly and is safe for your use. It’s one thing to buy a pair of ice skates on Craig’s list or EBay, but when you buy a medical device needed for a life threatening disorder, buy it legally, safely and know what you are getting! Note some machines are certified as factory refurbished and may not have any warranty.

Buying a used machine from an individual you don’t know is like buying a used car “as is” and “at your own risk” and "all sales are final". I know many good and trusting people who were duped in to cash purchases over the internet and received worn out masks and machines on their last leg. Buyer beware.

No matter where you buy a new or used machine, even if it’s donated and free, you will need to provide a prescription to eventually have the pressure set. All patients should have a hard copy of their prescription for cpap including masks and humidifiers. it’s your right. Request one from your physician.


If you need help obtaining used, free or reduced price equipment start with your sleep doctor or home health supplier. They receive free samples from the manufacturers and might be willing to provide you with an occasional mask, tubing or filters. Just as many doctors have a closet full of free medication samples that they freely give patients, some sleep doctors have a similar sleep apnea equipment closet of samples/freebies. Just ask. The same holds true for home health suppliers, don’t be afraid to ask them for help. CPAP manufacturers are not able to deal directly with the patient. They are however, generous in giving samples to docs, sleep labs and home healthcare.

I have found the BEST source for obtaining freebies is local sleep apnea support groups. The American Sleep Apnea Association’s A.W.A.K.E. Network is comprised of hundreds of mutual-help support groups in nearly all 50 states. Click here to see their locator page:

In addition to the A.W.A.K.E. network, many local sleep labs, sleep doctors or home health providers have their own patient support groups. Call those in your surrounding area to find one. Most support group meetings consist of a brief educational lecture, and a question and answer period for patient attendees to discuss compliance issues. Often the equipment manufacturers are present to display masks and machines to keep us patients familiar with new products. Bring your cpap machines to these meetings to be checked with a manometer to verify accurate pressure delivery. Bring your broken masks, you might find a free part. Attend and get to know your fellow patients, the respiratory therapists and sleep techs that run the groups. These are the people “in the know” to help provide free, used or reduced priced equipment. Many support groups have a mask trade / swap program which allows patients to trade equipment. People are amazingly generous and often donate slightly used equipment to others if they know of the need.

If there is not an apnea support group in your area, start one yourself! I have started several support groups in various cities and it’s easy to do. Express your interest to your local sleep doctor groups, home healthcare provider or sleep labs. They would probably jump at the chance to start a group; perhaps all they need is your nudge. They’ll have the financial resources to fund any small costs to set up a support group. They will have the list of patient names to send invites to. They usually have a connection to provide the free meeting space and also guest speakers. They have relationships with the manufacturers who can provide equipment displays at the meetings. You can meet as often as you wish and as your group grows in number, it will be as resourceful as you and your fellow patients help make it. My local apnea support group has grown to over 400 patient attendees who meet quarterly. That’s a lot of mask swapping!

Help is out there and now you know where to look. You must be proactive. Just ask for a little help from your friends.


  • Report Report as inappropriate
  • Share
    Email Email
    Print Print Twitter Twitter
    Facebook Facebook

Replies (1 reply)

Add your reply Reply Down
Hide the Social Toolbar Show the Social Toolbar