Moving the HME Industry Forward

General Healthcare

Oxygen and the Traveling Patient

June 20, 2016

AMARILLO, TX – An often debated issue pertains to the DME supplier’s responsibilities to take care of oxygen patients (i) who are traveling and (ii) in anticipation of emergencies.

Traveling and relocation guidelines are provided in the Oxygen and Oxygen Equipment Policy Article on CMS.gov.  Generally, if a patient is traveling, the DME supplier must either provide the equipment and services itself or arrange for the provision of the same with a supplier located where the patient is traveling or relocating. If a patient wants to purchase or rent additional batteries from the supplier, then the supplier can provide that service, and the supplier can charge the patient for unreturned rented equipment.

The supplier must go through the ABN process to put the patient on notice that these items are non-covered by Medicare.  The supplier is not “required” to provide additional batteries to patients.  However, there may be patient satisfaction issues related to outright denying such requests…thus, the decision whether to provide additional batteries is a business one.

Regarding a weather or other type of emergent situation where a patient may not have ready access to the DME supplier’s services, or if the supplier may not be able to access the patient for an extended period of time (e.g., storm, power outage, etc.), the supplier is required to have a contingency plan in place to ensure that patients can continue to receive oxygen services. 

For example, before a storm, a supplier may deliver additional oxygen tanks to patients in anticipation of being unable to reach them for a period of time. This contingency plan requirement is part of the DME quality standards that all suppliers must meet. However, the contingency plan requirement does not require a supplier to specifically provide additional batteries to a patient. 

If such a “requirement” does exist, it applies only insofar as providing additional batteries is part of the supplier’s contingency plan. The supplier can sell additional batteries to Medicare oxygen patients at the supplier’s normal sales price for a battery. An ABN will be required.

When a Medicare oxygen patient travels to another home (“snowbird”) and wants his stationary device moved, is the supplier required to take responsibility for the transfer as part of the rental? Technically, the supplier will not be required to take responsibility for moving the patient’s oxygen. 

The supplier’s only requirement is to ensure that once the patient reaches his destination, his oxygen and related supplies are covered either by the supplier or through an arrangement the supplier has made with a local supplier.  However, an issue may arise where the supplier tells a patient that “we are not responsible for moving the oxygen” and the patient subsequently leaves the oxygen at his house.  Assume that once the patient arrives at his destination, the patient calls the supplier and says “I need my oxygen.”  The supplier will be responsible for ensuring that the patient has the oxygen items and services that he needs.

Jeffrey S. Baird, JD, is chairman of the Health Care Group at Brown & Fortunato PC, a law firm based in Amarillo, Tex. He represents pharmacies, infusion companies, HME companies, and other health care providers throughout the United States. Baird is Board Certified in Health Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and can be reached at (806) 345-6320 or jbaird@bf-law.com.