Updated: March 4, 2019
Did you know that a prescription is required to get started with CPAP therapy? Below we discuss what goes into a CPAP prescription, who can write a CPAP prescription, and what to think about when buying your first CPAP machine.
Why You Need a Prescription to Purchase Certain CPAP Equipment
You’ll need to have a prescription in hand when buying a CPAP machine, mask, or humidifier. These devices are classified by the FDA as Class II Medical Devices1, and it’s illegal to sell a CPAP machine, CPAP mask, or CPAP humidifier without having a valid prescription.
Be very careful when dealing with a company that tries to sell you a CPAP machine without a prescription. Not only are they breaking the law, but the machine you get may not work correctly or could be set up wrong.
Why is it Important to Get a CPAP Prescription?
Prescriptions are important because it tells you exactly what is required for successful CPAP therapy. Here are some of the things a prescription usually covers:
- correct therapy pressure
- type of device needed (CPAP, APAP, BiPAP)
- diagnosis (there are 3 different types of Sleep Apnea)
- recommended CPAP mask type (full face, nasal, nasal pillow)
- when to buy replacement parts
And that’s just the beginning. Prescriptions are also important because they make recommendations based on the results of your sleep study. A sleep study provides data about how you sleep and where the problems are. Without the results, you’re really just guessing. A prescription turns the insights from the sleep test and makes it actionable, giving you access to successful treatment.
If you already have a prescription on file somewhere, there are ways of getting it without needing to see a doctor. We’ll cover this in greater detail later in the article.
Can I Get a CPAP Without a Prescription?
It’s possible to get a used CPAP machine without a prescription from a private seller, but it’s not recommended. Sometimes you can find a recycled CPAP machine from a second-hand seller on the internet, but be careful. A used machine will come with its own problems. These are the risks:
- breathing in the previous owner’s germs
- getting sick
- purchasing a machine at the end of its life expectancy
- features not working
- buying the wrong type of machine (you may need a BiPAP, for example)
There are many more hidden dangers to buying a second-hand CPAP machine, which we won’t list here. But it’s better to get the right equipment right off the bat because your therapy stands a stands a better chance of working for you than it does relying on a machine someone else used. If you need assistance on getting a CPAP machine, read our CPAP machine buying guide or call 1-800-356-5221.
How Long is it Valid?
Some prescriptions have a finite expiration date or can be valid for life, as judged by how many “refills” or other indicators a doctor writes on the prescription. Here are some examples of how time limits can be written:
- “Lifetime” or “99 Months”: These are truly unlimited. You can get as many as you need.
- “X refills”: that’s the total amount of machines you can purchase on that prescription. So if it states 5 refills, you’d get 5 machines max, and have to see your doctor again to get your 6th..
- “Valid until MM/DD/YYYY”: Prescriptions with an expiration date can’t be used after that date
How to Get a CPAP Prescription?
Here are the steps to getting a prescription from a doctor:
- Schedule an appointment to discuss your sleep with your doctor.
- The doctor will usually order a home sleep test.
- You’ll setup the test, and fall asleep like you normally would.
- The next morning you’ll send the sleep test to the remote lab.
- The recommendations are sent to your doctor, who writes the prescription.
Your doctor may order your sleep study be done in a sleep lab. This usually isn’t a reason to worry. Home sleep studies can only be used to check for apnea, and if that’s not the source of your problem, you’ll need to go into a sleep lab for your sleep study.
Some companies offer home sleep test kits, which include a prescription if needed. A remote lab sends the sleep test to you. After the results are measured, the doctor from the lab will send you a prescription via email. Many of these companies typically charge around $180 for this service. This is a great option for anyone who has limited access to healthcare.
Does Someone Need a Prescription for a Sleep Study?
A person doesn’t need a prescription for a sleep study. By going to a 3rd party company online you can order it yourself, and have it delivered to you. If you go through your doctor to get the prescription, they’ll order it for you, and you won’t need to worry about it. Thanks to telemedicine, sleep studies are easier to come by and more readily available than they used to be, so you shouldn’t worry about getting a new one.
How Much Does a Sleep Study Cost?
In our interview with Dr. Amie Stringfellow she revealed the true cost of a sleep study.
- In-home sleep studies typically cost $180
- In-lab sleep studies can cost as much as $5,000
Insurance can cover some of the cost, but it all depends on your deductible. Medicare will cover most types of sleep studies, but you’ll need to pay 20% of the Medicare negotiated amount2.
Who Can Write a Prescription?
You may not realize this, but almost any U.S. based doctor (including your family doctor) can write a prescription for a CPAP machine. It doesn’t have to be a specialist. In a pinch, there’s a chance your doctor could give you a fresh prescription if your old one expired. Here’s a list of professionals who can get you a prescription:
- Doctor of Osteopathy
- Nurse Practitioner
- Physician Assistant
- M.D. Psychiatrist
- Family Doctors
…And that’s not even a complete list!
See this resource for the complete list of the doctors who can write a CPAP prescription.
This page is a useful site with lots of helpful advice about CPAP.com’s prescription policy.
How Do I Track Down My Old Prescription?
Did you know? CPAP.com offers a free service helping anyone track down old prescriptions. We will send a message to a doctor’s office, asking them for your prescription, so you don’t have to. If your doctor needs help with writing a valid prescription for a CPAP machine, mask, or humidifier we can tell them what topics need to be covered in order for CPAP.com to be able to process the order.
With a little sleuthing online, you also can find your previous doctor and contact his or her office. Just search the doctor’s name or practice name online to track down the office. Give them a call and see if they still have it.
If you previously worked with another DME, there’s a chance you can get the prescription from them. They should still have it on file. They can release it to you, and you can give it to your CPAP supplier of choice.
Where Does Someone Purchase CPAP Equipment?
After getting the prescription, the hard part’s over! Now it’s time for your first or next CPAP machine, mask, or humidifier. There are usually two ways you can get your CPAP equipment:
- Buy Online with a Company Like CPAP.com
- Go Through Your Insurance Company and Its DME (or Durable Medical Equipment provider)
Each method has its own advantages and drawbacks, which we go over in greater detail in our article about CPAP machine cost and insurance.
If you have questions about getting your first CPAP machine, feel free to call our CPAP experts at 1-800-356-5221. They’re knowledgeable, friendly, and ready to help you get connected to the treatment you need!
1. Food & Drug Administration. “Learn if a Medical Device Has Been Cleared by the FDA for Marketing”, FDA Official Website: Dec 29, 2017. Accessed on March 4, 2019
2. Medicare. “Sleep Studies”. Medicare Official Website: 2019. Accessed on March 4, 2019
Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.