WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Several times each day, George Cannon, and his wife, Mary, navigate their power wheelchairs down the hallways at the assisted living facility in St. George, Utah where they live, as the older couple makes their way to the facility's dining room.
Like millions of other seniors and people living with disabilities, the Cannons depend on their wheelchairs for mobility that helps to ensure safety and independence in their daily lives.
"I wouldn't make it without the power wheelchair," said George, 94. "A few years ago, it got to where I couldn't walk any distance with my walker."
This particular morning, Mary, 83, who is even more physically limited than George, had to go to the doctor, but she had forgotten to charge her wheelchair's battery overnight. "I had to bring her breakfast in my chair while her wheelchair was charging," George says. "She couldn't get breakfast without her power wheelchair."
The Cannons received power wheelchairs under Medicare's power mobility benefit and are grateful that the federal health program provides this vital medical equipment. "We are thankful to Medicare for providing these power wheelchairs," says George, who retired in 1983 from California State University at Northridge, where he taught computer science.
But the power wheelchairs that allow George and Mary to live safely and relatively independently are becoming more difficult to obtain through the ever-changing Medicare program.
Government policies and regulations ranging from a badly designed Medicare competitive bidding program for durable medical equipment to excessive audits, reimbursement cuts, and subjective rules for documenting a patient's medical necessity are combining to make it very difficult for home medical equipment providers to furnish power wheelchairs to beneficiaries.
Tyler Wilson, the president and CEO of the American Association for Homecare, says it is "stunning" that many lawmakers and policymakers in Washington don't understand the value of power wheelchairs to people like George and Mary Cannon.
"So often policy and regulatory decisions are made without realizing that making it more difficult for businesses to provide power wheelchairs means that some of the most vulnerable in our society go without power wheelchairs or are delayed in receiving them, resulting in increased costs," Wilson explains. "Our goal should be implementing systems that make it easier for seniors and people living with disabilities to receive the mobility assistance they need."
Moreover, Wilson says the government frequently overlooks the fact that power wheelchairs allow Medicare patients to stay in their own homes longer, which is often the most cost effective setting for care. He said studies show that power wheelchairs reduce hospital emergency room visits from falls for Medicare patients and delay the need for Medicare beneficiaries to be placed in expensive nursing homes.
"A power chair allows individuals to move around on their own," says Ceil Stevenson, a program specialist with the Red Rock Center for INDEPENDENCE in St. George. She works with seniors with sight problems and has helped George Cannon, who is partially blind, use a computer despite his limited vision.
"Some people with disabilities are able to use their hands and arms to propel a manual wheelchair, but this can be a big drain on energy," Stevenson says. "A power chair allows that person to move without the assistance of others, while preserving energy for other tasks. A person would not need to wait until someone can help him get from one place to another. Being independent can be a big morale booster for someone living with a disability."
Health Affairs, a leading journal of health policy, reported that there are significant advantages—for the government and patients—in providing mobility assistance.
"There is consensus among consumers, policymakers, and researchers that assistive technology is important to promoting self-care and independence among people with disabilities," Health Affairs reported. "An estimated 75–90 percent of disabled older community-dwelling adults use some form of assistive technology. Moreover, evidence suggests that such technology might be more efficacious than personal care in reducing functional limitations, might reduce reliance on personal care, and might slow functional decline and lower health-related costs. A recent survey of unpaid caregivers found that 40 percent had obtained assistive technology on behalf of people in their care to 'make things easier.' "
Furthermore, staying in their homes as long as possible is a clear priority for the elderly and patients living with disabilities. "Loss of independence and loss of mobility are what people with disabilities 50 and older say they fear the most as they look to the future," AARP reported in Beyond 50.03: A Report to the Nation on Independent Living and Disability.
George and Mary Cannon strongly endorse Medicare's power mobility benefit. "It's been a tremendous help to us," George says.
The American Association for Homecare represents durable medical equipment providers and manufacturers who serve the medical needs of millions of Americans who require oxygen equipment and therapy, mobility devices, medical supplies, inhalation drug therapy, and other medical equipment and services in their homes. Members operate more than 3,000 homecare locations in all 50 states. Please visit www.aahomecare.org/athome.
SOURCE American Association for Homecare