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Low Air Loss Mattress: When to Use It and How to Get It Covered

I have been an RN for more than 20 years. I enjoy freelance writing, palliative nursing, and helping Americans retire with dignity.

The low air loss mattress consists of multiple air chambers.

The low air loss mattress consists of multiple air chambers.

What Is Low Air Loss Mattress?

A low air loss mattress is a pressure-relieving mattress used to prevent and treat bed sores (pressure ulcers). The mattress is designed with multiple air chambers that alternately fill with air and deflate so that pressure on the skin is constantly changing. This alternating action relieves pressure from bony prominences (hip joints, shoulders, elbows, heels) by changing the pressure of the surface below them.

By relieving the pressure from these areas and allowing air to circulate beneath and around them, bed sores are treated and prevented. While there are many different brands of low air loss mattresses, the function of the mattress remains the same. When the need to heal or prevent pressure ulcers arises, this mattress is the one to choose.

What Is a Pressure Ulcer?

A pressure ulcer is a sore on the skin caused by constant pressure. The pressure on the skin does not allow blood and oxygen to flow to that area. This can cause the area to break down or open. While pressure ulcers begin as reddened areas on the skin, severe pressure ulcers are open wounds and can extend through muscle and to the bone.

Who Can Benefit From a Low Air Loss Mattress?

Low air loss mattresses are typically used in caring for those who currently have pressure ulcers, have signs of pressure ulcers, or are immobile. Immobility leads to prolonged pressure on the shoulders, elbows, hips and heels. Those who are immobile and unable to turn and re-position in bed are have the highest risk of developing pressure ulcers. Some who can benefit from a low air loss mattress are:

  • paraplegic or quadraplegic;
  • hospitalized in intensive care;
  • comatose;
  • terminally ill;
  • recovering from surgery.
Immobility can cause pressure ulcers (bed sores).

Immobility can cause pressure ulcers (bed sores).

When Should They Be Considered?

A low air loss mattress should be considered for those who:

  • Are primarily bed confined
  • Are not bed confined but have signs of developing pressure ulcers
  • Already have an open (Stage II or higher) pressure ulcer

Although these mattresses are used for the most part in caring for those with either developing or open pressure ulcers, it is also important to consider those who are bed-confined for long periods of time. Further, the terminally ill and dying should not be excluded from consideration for the mattress as their skin is very fragile and prone to breakdown.

Are They Covered By Insurance

Medicare. The Medicare criteria for a low air loss mattress will vary slightly from one area of the U.S. to another. Beginning criteria for payment by Medicare are:

  • Multiple pressure ulcers on the body trunk and pelvis
  • Use of a Group 1 pressure relieving device for 30 days
  • Documentation of participation in a comprehensive ulcer treatment program;
  • Documentation that the wounds have either worsened or stayed the same over the past 30 days.

Medicaid. Coverage criteria by Medicaid will mirror that of Medicare in the state in question.

Third-Party Health Insurance. Third-party health insurance guidelines for coverage will vary from one insurer to another. To determine benefits, contact the benefits department of the insurance for a summary of benefits for Durable Medical Equipment (DME). Then, determine if there is a deductible to be met and/or a co-pay to be paid.

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Hospice. Under the Medicare Hospice Benefit, any and all medical equipment that is necessary for the comfort of the patient is covered. For those who are terminally ill and suffering from pressure ulcers, a low air loss mattress may be provided by hospice at no charge to the patient or family.

Hospice benefits of third-party insurance companies will vary from one company to another. To determine benefits, contact the benefits department of the insurance for a summary of benefits for Hospice. Ask if the hospice benefit includes Durable Medical Equipment (DME). Then, determine if there is a deductible to be met and/or a co-pay to be paid.

Private Purchase. In the event the mattress is not covered by insurance, the mattress may also be purchased privately at your own expense from a medical equipment company or online. Expect to pay between $500 and $800 for a good quality low air loss mattress.

How Do I Get a Low Air Loss Mattress?

A physician's prescription and a Certificate of Medical Necessity will be required by Medicare, Medicaid and third-party insurance companies. A Certificate of Medical Necessity is a form completed by the physician that indicates why the low air loss mattress is needed and what type of treatment has taken place so far. Hospices are required to provide this type of equipment when medically necessary and will only require a physician's order. If you purchase the mattress at your own expense, no documentation from the physician is required.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Nancy Palmer on December 27, 2017:

Would this mattress help for Rhabdomyalosesis, spinal stenosis and painful fibromyalgia?

Teresa Sanderson (author) from Rural Midwest on February 11, 2013:

Thanks for your kind comments! As a former hospice RN, I am very familiar with the use of this mattress in the care of the terminally ill. So glad your parents were able to utilize the appropriate mattress for their comfort!

Carly Sullens from St. Louis, Missouri on February 11, 2013:

Great hub!!! I used to work as a nursing assistant when I was in college. We had to turn the residents every 2 hours during the night shift so they do not develop bed sores.

When both my parents were dying of cancer the low air loss mattress was so helpful. My mom's cancer was so painful that moving here would of made her suffer. The mattress allowed her to rest more peacefully as she passed.

I am glad these were invited and are so helpful for those who need them.

You did a fantastic job on a subject that most people probably do not know about.

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