Accessing Durable Medical Equipment with Medical Equipment Banks
Date Published: July 16, 2022
For many seniors, the ideal retirement includes staying in their homes and living independently. However, growing older can bring health concerns that jeopardize that dream. This is where durable medical equipment (DME) can step in. These devices can help you stay independent by assisting with mobility, breathing, hearing and more. Unfortunately, DME can be expensive. Although health insurance covers some devices, the process can be lengthy and difficult to navigate. Medical equipment banks offer an easier pathway to assistive devices.
Medical equipment banks are government or nonprofit organizations that help people access assistive technology through equipment loans, financing, exchanges and other methods. With approximately 2.5 million people across the country using DME, these organizations provide essential assistance to many in the community. Understanding what medical equipment banks do can help you find devices that make your life easier.
This guide looks at the services offered by medical equipment banks and the type of devices they can help you access. It also features a list of medical equipment banks in each state to help you start your search for DME.
Defining Durable Medical Equipment
There are different terms used when talking about medical devices, and it can be helpful to understand what they mean.
Assistive technology (AT) is any device that helps increase or maintain the functional capabilities of disabled people. Although the word “technology” conjures up images of futuristic machines, AT can be as low-tech as a cardboard communication board. They also include more high-tech solutions such as special-purpose computers. While AT helps people with disabilities, it doesn’t necessarily have a strict medical purpose. For example, shower seats don’t serve a specific medical purpose, so they’re often not classified as DME. However, they make showering safer for people with mobility issues, so they’re classified as AT.
Durable Medical Equipment
Durable medical equipment is a type of assistive technology. Because Medicare, Medicaid and other health insurance policies may cover it, they have strict definitions for DME. Essentially, DME is equipment that can withstand repeated use for a medical reason. It’s expected to last at least three years and isn’t useful to someone who isn’t sick or injured. Again, DME can be low-tech, such as a walking cane or high-tech, such as an automated insulin pump.
The government definition also states that DME is “appropriate for use in the home.” This means government programs may not cover DME intended for use exclusively outside of the home, such as wheelchair ramps.
In the context of AT, medical supplies generally refer to non-durable or disposable medical equipment. DME may require you to buy medical supplies to use the equipment. For example, breathing machines may need a regular tubing supply for safe usage. Insurance policies don’t cover supplies as DME but may cover them separately.
Accessing Durable Medical Equipment
Medicare Part B does cover some DME, but using this coverage can be a long process. A doctor must prescribe the equipment, and both the doctor and DME supplier must be enrolled in Medicare. Initially, a policy will cover the least expensive option, and if you require something more expensive, you will require additional documentation. For example, if you need a motorized wheelchair because you can’t push a manual one yourself, you need to go back to the doctor. This adds to the time it takes to access equipment.
Medicare is also exempt from covering certain DME, such as hearing aids and glasses. Exemptions may also include devices designed to help you outside the home, as the government definition of DME specifies, it must be for home use.
Every state has different Medicaid rules. If you have Medicaid, you need to check your plan or waiver to see if it covers DME. As a general rule, Medicaid covers devices if they’re medically necessary, but states can define medical necessity differently. There are similar problems with private health insurance as companies often use government definitions to base their policies.
Individuals can obtain DME by paying privately for a device. However, as DME can be expensive, this is not an option for everyone who needs equipment. Medical equipment banks step in to fill coverage gaps and help people who can’t access DME any other way.
How Medical Equipment Banks Can Help
In 2004, Congress passed the Assistive Technology Act. This funds medical equipment banks, known as Assistive Technology Act Projects (ATAPs), in every state. In addition to these government ATAPs, there are many local nonprofit medical equipment banks around the country.
The primary purpose of ATAPs is to help people access assistive devices. With the help of medical equipment banks, seniors can get DME without a long wait. As equipment banks focus on all manners of assistive devices, not just DME, they can also help seniors access equipment not covered by health insurance.
Services provided by medical equipment banks differ depending on the community’s needs and the resources the organization has at its disposal. Commonly offered services include:
Demonstrations and Training
Medical equipment banks offer demonstrations of different types of assistive technology so you can see how they may work for you. This can also allow you to compare different brands or styles of equipment and decide what best fits your needs. Many equipment banks also offer training to ensure people get the most out of their equipment.
People refer to short-term equipment loans as equipment banks or equipment libraries. These short-term loans allow people to borrow different types of equipment for a short time, often four to six weeks. This is a great way to test an assistive device to see if it fits your needs. This is also good for people who only need equipment temporarily, for example, if they’re recovering from surgery. Some ATAPs also have open-ended loans available; however, this is rare.
Equipment Refurbishment and Repairs
Equipment banks may accept donated items and refurbish them. This involves cleaning and making any repairs. They then give away these items to people in need or sell them at a reduced rate, making it easier for low-income people to afford equipment. ATAPs that don’t offer this service directly may partner with other organizations that refurbish DME.
Refurbishment also helps old equipment stay out of landfills. Some equipment banks also offer repair services so that people can continue using their devices for longer.
Equipment exchanges or marketplaces allow people to buy, sell or give away gently-used equipment. Medical equipment banks often operate websites that allow people to list and search for devices. People who no longer need equipment can ensure it gets to someone who will use it, while those who require a device can find good equipment at a low price.
Many equipment banks, especially those operated by the government, offer financial assistance to people who need to buy DME. This can be through low-interest loans or grant programs. These programs often require applicants to meet financial eligibility criteria. Organizations that don’t offer loans themselves can often help people find alternative financing options.
Is Used Medical Equipment Safe?
If you’re getting DME through a medical equipment bank, there’s reassurance that it’s been sterilized, cleaned and checked for safety. These organizations have experience ensuring the safety of donated equipment and exist, so as many people as possible have access to assistive technology. Some equipment may need new parts, such as breathing devices, which often need new tubes for proper sanitation.
If you’re using an equipment exchange service to purchase equipment, you may be interacting directly with the previous owner. In this case, they may not have checked the equipment thoroughly, so it’s important to do due diligence. It’s likely that the medical equipment bank can either check the device for you or explain what to look for when buying second-hand DME.
Who Qualifies for Free Medical Equipment?
Each medical equipment bank runs differently, so qualifications for free equipment will depend on where you live. As a general rule, medical equipment banks provide advice, demonstrations and similar assistance to anyone, no matter their age, income or disability. This is especially true of government-run banks.
Some programs that offer more material help, such as financial assistance and free equipment, may only be available to low-income residents. Anyone who receives equipment, whether through short-term loans, funding help or donated DME, must also show that they have a functional need for the equipment.
Types of Medical Equipment
DME consists of more than just mobility devices. Assistive technology comes in many shapes and sizes.
Mobility devices help people who have weakness in their legs or cannot use their legs. Users move manual wheelchairs by rolling the wheels or having someone push them.
This wheelchair moves via a motor. This allows operation by people who also have upper body weakness.
$1,500 and above
These mechanisms lift wheelchairs or scooters in and out of a vehicle. They allow people to transport wheelchairs more easily, allowing seniors greater freedom.
$25 and above
Portable ramps are lightweight and foldable and can make cars or buildings wheelchair-accessible. Their price depends on their size and type.
Walkers are mobility devices that help people walk. They consist of a sturdy, four-legged frame that you can lean on for balance and support.
This walking stick helps someone increase their mobility. Consisting of a single shaft, a cane provides stability and can help take weight off of a weak or painful leg. Modern canes may come with quad bases for increased support.
Geriatric Seat Lift Chair
$500–$2,500 or more
This seat lift is a recliner-style chair that tips forward. It helps seniors stand, increasing their mobility and independence.
Stand Assist Cushion
Stand assist cushions are also known as seat assists. These cushions have a built-in motor that tilts forward. Like seat lift chairs, they help people stand.
Commodes are portable toilets that consist of a chair with a hole in it and a container below that catches waste. Bedside commodes decrease the risk of falls when traveling to the toilet and help seniors continue to toilet independently.
$25 and above
These waterproof seats or stools provide a stable platform for people to bathe. They can assist people with mobility, strength and balance issues to bathe independently. Shower chairs also help prevent falls. People in wheelchairs can use rolling shower chairs, which can have a built-in commode for a toilet.
Hospital beds are adjustable beds that can lift knees and backs. For users, they can help improve continence, increase mobility and minimize bedsores. For caregivers, rails on hospital beds make it easier to provide personal care. Prices depend on the size and functions. People purchasing a refurbished bed may want to buy a new mattress.
Simple equipment: $35 and above
Complex machines: $1,000 and above
Breathing equipment comes in many shapes and sizes, from CPAP machines for sleep apnea to tube holders for people who have had tracheostomies. In all cases, respiratory devices help seniors who need assistance breathing.
These electronic devices amplify sound to help you hear properly. Medicare and Medicaid generally do not cover hearing aids. You can repurpose some, but a professional must adjust them to ensure they work properly for your hearing needs.
Glasses have lenses set in frames that correct a person’s eyesight. Medicare and Medicaid do not generally cover glasses. It’s also rare to reuse them as they’re tailored to an individual’s specific needs.
$15 and above
Sensory aids include magnifiers and speech output devices. The prices vary widely depending on the device.
Where to Access Free Medical Equipment in Each State
Many states have city- or county-level medical equipment banks, as well as those run by non-government organizations. However, state ATAPs are the best starting place to start looking for DME resources. If they cannot help, they can connect you with other resources that can.
STAR helps people access assistive technology. The organization offers training, demonstrations and short-term equipment loans. It has alternative finance options and an equipment reuse program.
ATLA has an information service that educates Alaskans about the benefits of AT. Seniors can also access demonstrations, need assessments and short-term equipment loans. ATLA can help people access low-cost or free DME.
AzTAP offers demonstrations, training, technical assistance and consultations to help people access and use AT effectively. It also has affordable finance options and facilitates an online equipment exchange.
Arkansas' iCAN offers a reuse program and helps seniors access free and low-cost devices. In addition, there’s an information service, seminars and training that make it easier to find an appropriate device and use it effectively.
Ability Tools is part of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers. It offers equipment loans and a demonstration center to help people find the right device. Seniors can access its equipment exchange service and a reuse program. In addition, it offers financial loans and a repair fund to help fix broken wheelchairs.
Colorado’s ATAP offers assessments so people understand what devices can help them in their homes. It has demonstrations and training to help you get the most out of your device and equipment loans so you can try them before you buy. The organization also has funding assistance and can help residents find free and low-cost devices.
Connecticut Tech Act Program (CTTAP)
CTTAP provides increased access to technology through device loans, demonstrations and a low-interest financial loan program. It also works with a community partner that refurbishes and sells used equipment at a significant discount.
DATI has resource centers that offer demonstrations and short-term equipment loans. Seniors can work with specialists to find AT solutions that meet their needs. The organization also facilitates an equipment exchange program.
District of Columbia
The DC Assistive Technology Program runs a DME recycling program that provides devices to eligible residents free of charge. It also offers educational services, demonstrations and short-term equipment loans. Residents can access alternative financing solutions through the organization.
FAAST provides training, demonstrations and information to Floridians to promote AT use. A financing program can help people afford devices and the organization also has equipment loans and a reuse program.
Georgia Tools for Life can assess seniors' needs to help them find the right assistive device. They also offer demonstrations, equipment loans and help to find alternative funding. The reused equipment program provides people with free or low-cost devices.
ATRC has a loan program so people can try equipment before making a final decision about purchasing. It also offers training, technical assistance and low-interest financial loans.
IATP provides information and education to encourage the use of DME. It offers assessments to assist with choosing the right device and low-interest financial loans can help people buy the equipment they need. Additionally, IATP has device loans, demonstrations, training and an equipment exchange.
IATP offers demonstrations, training and financial loans to help people choose and purchase the right assistive device. A reuse program provides free equipment to eligible residents and the organization also hosts an equipment exchange program.
INDATA provides assistive device resources to Indianans of all ages and abilities. Short-term equipment loans are available and the organization offers demonstrations and training to help you make the most of your device. It has financial assistance, a refurbishment program and an equipment exchange.
Easterseals Iowa Assistive Technology Program offers demonstrations, equipment loans and needs assessments to people throughout the state. The organization can also help people find financial assistance to purchase devices.
ATK provides demonstrations, information and training to Kansans. Its specialists are available to assess seniors' needs and its equipment loans allow you to try before you buy. ATK also has a reuse and recycle program.
KATS Network offers demonstrations and has a library program that provides short-term equipment loans. Its refurbishment program redistributes devices to people in need and the organization can help you find financial assistance.
LATAN provides information, advice and technical assistance to Louisianans who need AT. It has equipment loans and can also help people find alternative sources of DME funding.
Maine CITE improves access to assistive devices through equipment loans, demonstrations and training. The organization also runs an equipment exchange program to help people buy and sell gently used devices.
MDTAP offers demonstrations, consultations and low-interest loans to people who need AT. It facilitates an equipment exchange program and has devices for loan at library locations around the state.
MassMATCH has regional centers across the state that offer equipment loans, demonstrations, information and advice. It provides refurbished equipment for free to eligible residents and its alternative finance programs can help people fund DME purchases.
MATP maintains a directory of devices, funding, training, repairers and more to help Michigan residents access AT. It also offers equipment loans and demonstrations and facilitates an equipment exchange program for those who want to sell or buy used devices.
The STAR program has device demonstrations and short-term loans available to help seniors choose equipment that can best help them. It also offers open-ended equipment loans for longer-term needs. The organization supports DME reuse through several programs, including an equipment exchange program.
Project START increases Mississippians' access to DME through equipment loans, demonstrations and a reuse and refurbishment program.
Missouri Assistive Technology has demonstration centers throughout the state where people can see and try devices. There’s also an equipment loan service and alternative funding programs that help people access DME.
Montana Assistive Technology Program (MonTECH)
MonTECH can assess seniors' needs and make suggestions about devices to help them live independently. Its equipment loan program can ship many items free of charge anywhere in the state. MonTECH also has a financial loan program and runs an equipment exchange.
Nebraska ATP has device demonstrations and short-term equipment loans available. It can help people find funding sources for DME purchases and also runs an equipment exchange where people can buy and sell used equipment.
NATC provides information and advice to Nevadans who would benefit from assistive devices. Seniors can access demonstrations, equipment loans and repair services. In addition, it has a refurbishment program that gives away equipment to people in need.
ATinNH provides information, education and training to people throughout the state. Those interested in using AT can attend demonstrations or borrow devices to try at home. It also partners with organizations that refurbish equipment to sell at greatly reduced prices.
The Assistive Technology Advocacy Center has equipment loans available and seniors can access device demonstrations. The center also runs a reuse program that provides low-cost equipment to people in need.
NMTAP provides equipment loans, demonstrations and device training to promote the use of AT in the state. Seniors can also access a financial loan program and a reutilization program provides gently used equipment.
TRAID has regional centers across New York where people can find local assistance. It provides hands-on training, and its equipment loans let residents try devices before purchase. TRAID also has reutilization programs around the state that accept donations of used equipment.
The North Carolina Assistive Technology Program allows seniors to borrow equipment and offers demonstrations to help people choose the most appropriate device. It also reutilizes used equipment.
North Dakota Assistive has demonstrations, short-term equipment loans and a reuse program. It helps residents access loans and grants for funding DME and the Senior Safety Program provides some types of equipment free of charge to eligible people aged 60 and over.
Assistive Technology of Ohio (AT Ohio)
AT Ohio has a device lending library and also offers demonstrations, training and technical assistance. The refurbishment and reuse program helps people access second-hand DME.
ABLE Tech focuses on demonstrations, device loans and reutilization of used equipment. It offers education and training to people interested in AT and has low-interest loans available for those who need help purchasing devices.
Access Technologies, Inc. has information services to help people find alternative finance options and affordable DME. It also provides demonstrations and device loans, allowing people to explore their AT options.
Technology for Our Whole Lives (TechOWL)
TechOWL has a device lending library, used equipment program and device demonstrations. It also has a unique program that uses 3D printer technology to design personalized devices and makes them for free to meet the needs of disabled people.
Rhode Island ATAP is an umbrella organization made up of groups with specific AT focuses such as education, independent living and telephone equipment. Each organization provides equipment loans, demonstrations and reuse programs.
SCATP has specialists available that demonstrate devices and conduct training and workshops. The refurbishment program distributes devices to people in need. Seniors can also access equipment through short-term loans and the exchange program.
DakotaLink offers consultations that can help people identify their device needs. It also has demonstrations, device loans and used equipment for sale. The program provides low-interest loans to eligible people to help them purchase DME.
TTAP increases access to AT through funding assistance, demonstrations and short-term device loans. It also has a device reutilization program to help people purchase used equipment.
Texans can visit one of the 17 TTAP demonstration centers around the state to ask questions, see devices in use and borrow equipment. The organization also has a reuse program and can help residents find financial assistance options.
UATP has three locations where people can see devices in use and borrow AT to try at home. It also runs a reuse program and equipment exchange service.
VATP offers assessments by access specialists that allow people to identify their needs, try different devices and choose the most appropriate equipment. It also provides device loans, helps people find financial assistance and runs an equipment exchange.
VATS helps people access affordable AT and DME through an equipment exchange program and a refurbishment program that redistributes devices. It also offers demonstrations, equipment loans and advice for finding low-interest financial loans.
WATAP has a device lending program and offers equipment demonstrations. There’s a reuse program and equipment exchange to help people find affordable DME and the organization can help seniors find alternative financing options.
WVATS has an assessment survey that can help you identify devices that meet your needs and it also lets you borrow equipment to try at home. It has demonstrations, training and technical assistance. The organization also has a reuse program that provides free equipment to eligible West Virginians.
Wisconsin Assistive Technology Program (WisTech)
Seniors can access information on selecting and using assistive devices through WisTech. The program offers demonstrations, training and equipment loans. It has a reutilization program and equipment exchange service, as well as financial loans available for those who need help purchasing a device.
WATR can answer questions about assistive devices, helping people choose and fund their DME. Seniors can also access demonstrations and a reuse program. Additionally, WATR has equipment loans available, including WyRamp, allowing people to borrow access ramps for their homes.