As our insurance deductibles climb higher, and our co-pays increase, the appeal of buying a pre-owned CPAP is understandable. Especially if you already own one, and want to buy a second unit just for travel, or as a backup in case your primary unit decides to poop out on you. CPAP machines have an uncanny knack to quit working at the most inconvenient times, such as right at bedtime. You're getting ready for bed, going through your routine, settle in a bit, hit the start button, and...nothing. Or you hear the dreaded grinding and groaning sound of the motor, as your beloved CPAP takes it's last breath (pun intended).
OK, so if you decide to buy a used CPAP, where should you look?
In Louisville, Kentucky, there are 7 models listed on May 6th, 2014, ranging in price from $300 to $550. The choices included a very nice looking ResMed S9, a dubious looking Respironics "tank" model, as well as a few other models. Some of these are probably a great buy, with very low hours and in excellent condition. My suggestion would be to check your local Craigslist, and see what is available in your area. As always with Craigslist though, buyer beware. The best reason to shop locally is that you can actually see the unit before you buy, check the hours and condition, etc.
Most local home medical equipment companies have a plethora of used CPAP machines, and would be happy to sell them at bargain prices. In my store, we currently have about 60 used units on the shelves. They range from the ancient (ResMed S6, original BiPAP) to the latest and greatest (Respironics Auto SV, ResMed S9 Auto, Philips-Respironics System One). The single biggest benefit to buying used from a local DME is that the machine has (hopefully) been cleaned and disinfected properly, checked for operational issues, and outfitted with a new filter, water chamber, and tubing. They can also set the pressure to the correct setting for you; if you don't know your setting, they can usually obtain it from your sleep lab. Most will offer a warranty period as well. The biggest drawback (for some people) is that any reputable DME will require a copy of your sleep study or a prescription from your doctor. I know that we do, and would assume that all others do as well.
Several websites sell used machines; I'm not going to link to them, because I have no way of knowing the quality of their used CPAP machines, not do I know if they provide good service. It is a pretty simple matter to do a quick Google search for "used CPAP machine" and find a number of sites. I'm not a huge fan of this option, mainly because you have no idea what you will receive. Unless you are buying a new CPAP, I would avoid online resellers. There are simply too many ways for this to go bad. There do not appear to be any savings over what you would pay locally, and they will also require a prescription (again, if they are reputable).
My top tips for buying a used CPAP machine:
1. Narrow your choices down to just a couple of models. If you want the least expensive used CPAP possible, know that you will probably be getting a model that is at least 5 years old. Some, like the Fisher & Paykel 200 Series units, can be had for around $200. We sold a HC221 last week to a local customer for only $150, and backed it with a 30 day warranty. Don't overwhelm yourself with too many choices; do your research via the telephone and the internet before you actually drive around to see them in person. Unless you have a lot more time than I have, and enjoy CPAP shopping as much as you enjoy shopping for clothes or new tech gadgets!
2. Inspect thoroughly. Once you have found a few likely candidates, visit your top 3 or 4 in person. Visually inspect the CPAP machine, looking for obvious signs of abuse. Sniff it, especially around the filter area. You do not want to purchase a machine which reeks of smoke (unless you smoke, and the smell doesn't bother you), because the smell is nearly impossible to remove. Take your own mask and tubing with you; hook it up, turn it on, and listen to the blower motor (I would suggest taking a few sanitary wipes with you, so you don't get cooties on your tubing. Even better, use a bacteria filter between the machine air outlet and your tubing).
3. Know your pressure setting and know how to set the pressure. A shiny, used CPAP machine is not of much benefit if you only need a pressure of 8cmH2O, but the previous owner needed a pressure of 18 or 20. Most of the newer CPAP units have readily accessible instructions on the internet showing you how to change the pressure; if you buy from a local DME, they will set the pressure for you. Also, be sure that if you need an Auto-PAP, that you are actually looking at Auto CPAP machines. Pretty obvious, I know, but we have had several instances when a customer gets a price quote over the phone from us for a used fixed-pressure CPAP, but they show up with a prescription for an Auto-PAP. There is typically a $50-$100 premium for an Auto CPAP over a fixed pressure machine. Same advice goes for CPAP vs. BiPAP, and there is a HUGE price difference in these units.
4. Replace all of the disposables. Used CPAP machines are also (usually) going to come with used filters, tubing, and water chambers. Yuck. Just, yuck. If you are buying from an individual, do your sinuses a favor and replace all of these disposable items before using the unit. Either buy them online, or at a local DME. Some individuals may have extra, unopened filters and tubing; these may be fine to use, just use common sense if there is any question regarding the cleanliness of the person's home. If you buy from a local DME, they will (they certainly should, at least) provide new CPAP tubing, filters, chamber, etc. with your purchase.
5. Ask about a warranty. If you are buying from Craigslist, odds are the seller will not offer a warranty. Great tip here: if the seller claims that the unit is only 6 months or a year old, call the manufacturer on the spot and ask if there is any factory warranty remaining. It's very easy to do, and usually quick. I called a few of the manufacturers to verify this, and they all stated that they will either tell you outright, or at least tell you to whom and when they sold the CPAP machine originally. Most offer a 2 year warranty, while DeVilbiss offers 3 years (5 years if purchased online originally).
Here are the contact numbers for the major manufacturers:
Philips-Respironics: 800-345-6443 (choose the patient option)
ResMed: 800-424-0737 (choose the patient option)
Fisher & Paykel: 949-453-4000
Additional thoughts and suggestions:
As there is a tremendous demand for used CPAP machines, there are also a number of excellent options for you to find the perfect machine at a great price. Just use common sense, much as you would when shopping for any other used item.
My ranked order of preference for buying on the used market would be:
1. Local DME/HME
3. Online seller with no local presence
I placed local DME/HME first on my list. Many of you may think that's because it's in my best interest, which is incorrect. The reasons are many. The prices I see on Craigslist are pretty much in line with the prices that we typically charge for the same used unit, so there is not really any cost savings to be realized. The DME will set the pressure for you, saving you a little bit of hassle and time. They will (absolutely should) offer a brief warranty, as well as tell you if there is any warranty left from the manufacturer. You will also get new disposable supplies with the machine if you purchase from a DME. Lastly, it is likely a one-stop buying experience; most DMEs will have a huge selection, covering all price ranges and product offerings.
Craigslist may be a good choice for many people. The price may be a steal, as some people have no idea how much to ask for a used CPAP machine. More often than not, however, I see the exact opposite. The ad will say "Cost over $1100.00 new, selling for $650.00!" Well, like any used item, CPAP machines cost much more when new, and the seller is basing their price on the insurance allowable. Which is ridiculous, because for many years insurance companies over-paid for CPAP and BiPAP machines. Again though, you may find a like-new ResMed S9 AutoSet with H5i heater for $300. It's a crapshoot on Craigslist.
Online sellers (meaning CPAP websites) are the last choice, in my opinion. We have a website, which does a tremendous amount of business. We have never listed used CPAP machines, although it would be easy to do so. My personal opinion is that there are too many variables when buying used medical equipment, and this is one of those things that you need to inspect, do the sniff-test, get the serial number and check the warranty, etc. Unless you live in a remote area with nary a DME in sight, and listings on Craigslist are a long distance, then avoid buying a used machine from an online seller.
I didn't touch on the subject of buying a used CPAP machine on ebay. That's because ebay has restricted the sale of them, and if you spot one it will probably be removed before you have a chance to buy it anyway. I don't have a strong opinion either way on their policy. I believe in a free market system, yet also understand that it was possibly a liability issue for ebay (with a bit of arm-twisting from ResMed). So if you do spot a unit on ebay, just remember that the same drawbacks apply as if you were buying from a large online seller of used machines. Plus, it's from an individual. So you have all of the negatives of Craigslist, with none of the positives. You can't inspect it or check for odd smells.
Thanks for reading, and let me know in the comments if you have some good first-hand tips of your own to share!