What Is Oxygen Therapy?
This article was updated on: 09/15/2018
Your doctor may prescribe oxygen therapy if you have a condition that affects your body’s ability to get enough oxygen from the air to function properly. Here’s what you should know about oxygen therapy for yourself or a loved one.
When is oxygen therapy used?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), your lungs normally gather enough oxygen for your body’s needs from the air you breathe. The oxygen enters your bloodstream through tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that cover your lung’s air sacs (alveoli), and it’s carried to the heart to be pumped to organs throughout your body. If structures in your lungs are damaged or compromised from illness or disease, your lungs may not be able to absorb enough oxygen from the air. Oxygen therapy delivers oxygen to the lungs to help your body get the right amount it needs.
According to the NHLBI, doctors use oxygen therapy to treat the following conditions:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Heart failure
- Severe asthma
- Cystic fibrosis
- Sleep apnea
Your doctor may order tests such as an arterial blood gas test or a pulse oximetry test to measure the amount of oxygen in your blood to determine whether oxygen therapy is right for you. In most cases, people on oxygen therapy may feel less fatigue and shortness of breath; it can also increase the lifespan of some people with COPD, according to the NHLBI.
How is oxygen therapy administered?
According to the NHLBI, the oxygen itself is in a container. It’s administered to you via a tube in different ways, depending on your condition, and where you receive your oxygen therapy. You may get oxygen delivered to your lungs through a mask placed over your nose and mouth, through a pronged tube placed in your nostrils (nasal cannula), or through a small breathing tube inserted into your windpipe through the front of your neck (trans tracheal oxygen therapy). If you have a chronic condition and need oxygen therapy at home, you may use refillable oxygen tanks or a machine called an oxygen concentrator.
People who need continuous oxygen therapy may have many lightweight options for portable oxygen so they can continue their normal daily activities such as shopping and visiting friends outside the home.
Does Medicare cover oxygen therapy?
If you have coverage through Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), you may be able to rent oxygen therapy equipment and supplies for use in your home under Medicare Part B (medical insurance). Medicare may also help cover oxygen and supplies if you own oxygen therapy equipment. Oxygen equipment and accessories fall under the category of durable medical equipment (DME) for Medicare purposes, and allowable charges are covered at 80% under Medicare Part B; you pay 20% plus any remaining Part B deductible.
To be covered for oxygen supplies and accessories, you must meet the following requirements:
- Your doctor says you have a severe lung disease or you aren’t getting enough oxygen.
- Your health might improve with oxygen therapy.
- Your arterial blood gas level falls below a certain range.
- Other treatments haven’t improved your condition.
- Your doctor accepts Medicare assignment.
- You must use a Medicare-approved supplier (see details below).
When you begin oxygen therapy, in most cases you’ll rent your supplies for the first three years; after 36 months, your supplier must continue to provide oxygen, maintenance, and service for up to five years at no extra charge as long as you still need oxygen. After five years, you may choose a new supplier or continue with your existing one, and the 36-month rental period begins again.
The monthly rental payments may cover oxygen equipment, accessories, and services such as:
- Oxygen contents
- Tubing and/or mouthpiece
- Servicing, repairs, and maintenance
Keep in mind that in some states, durable medical equipment may be subject to a new Medicare cost-saving measure known as the Competitive Bidding Program. If you live in a state where competitive bidding applies, you must rent your oxygen therapy equipment from a supplier that is contracted with Medicare to be covered. Your health-care provider can let you know if this applies to you and which suppliers you can use in your area.
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For more information about oxygen therapy, please see:
“What is Oxygen Therapy?” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, last modified February 24, 2012, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/oxt