SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Changes in government policies and regulations may restrict access to power wheelchairs for Medicare beneficiaries in Utah, while forcing some homecare equipment providers out of business or to no longer offer power mobility assistance. Providers, consumer groups, and Medicare patients are asking Congress to ensure that mobility equipment remains available.
The policies jeopardizing access for seniors and those living with physical disabilities to mobility equipment include a new law that ends the first month purchase option for Medicare patients, as well as expansion of the flawed "competitive bidding" process that actually limits the number of providers who can supply homecare medical equipment in geographical areas.
Jay Broadbent, CEO of Salt Lake City-based Alpine Home Medical, noted that these changes are coming at a time when power mobility providers are already experiencing excessive government audits, delays in reimbursement payments, and reimbursement cuts of more than 35 percent over the last five years.
"Providers are at the point where we can't endure any more financial pressure and continue to offer quality products and services to Medicare beneficiaries," said Broadbent. "There has to be a realization in Washington that the fallout from the competitive bidding fiasco and elimination of the first-month purchase option is going to have a major impact on Medicare beneficiaries. There simply are not going to be enough providers left standing to supply them with mobility equipment."
By eliminating the option for the first-month purchase, the government plans to pay providers rental payments over the first 13 months that a patient has the equipment. But with credit tight in the sluggish economy, most providers can't obtain the lines of credits and loans they need to afford the upfront cost of purchasing power wheelchairs from manufacturers. The measure is scheduled to take effect on January 1, but providers, consumers groups, and Medicare patients have all asked Congress to delay implementation for one year so that providers can have time to adjust their business models to account for the cash flow problems created by the new policy. Moreover, providers have volunteered to make the delay budget-neutral by accepting a one percent reduction to the Medicare consumer price index update to standard power wheelchairs.
Meanwhile, criticism continues to mount against the bidding program. In September, bidding system experts and economists, including two Nobel laureates, sent a letter to Congress warning about major problems with Medicare's bidding system. The experts predicted the system will fail, citing the fact that the bids are non-binding, the rules encourage unsustainable low-ball bids, the process distorts bids, and the program lacks transparency. H.R. 3790, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives with broad bipartisan support, would replace the bidding program with other cost saving measures but preserve patient access to mobility equipment. Among the organizations asking that the bidding program be eliminated are the ALS Association, American Association of People with Disabilities, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Council on Independent Living, National Spinal Cord Injury Association, and United Spinal Association.
"It is imperative that Congress take reasonable steps to ensure that people with disabilities and seniors have improved mobility and enjoy freedom and independence in our society," said Andy Curry, executive director of the Tri-County Independent Living Center in Ogden. "Power wheelchairs make a tremendous difference in the lives of people who need them. We want Washington to better understand the negative impact that these polices will have in our communities."
Curry, for instance, noted that power wheelchairs help many Medicare patients to perform the daily necessities of life, such as grooming, getting to the bathroom, and preparing food, which can delay placements in expensive nursing homes. He said that power wheelchairs also save the government money by reducing the amount paid for hospital emergency room treatment of Medicare patents after fall-related injuries. "One of the many benefits of power wheelchairs is that they significantly reduce fall-related injuries," Curry said. "Our seniors and people with physical limitations need to have continued access to power mobility assistance to maintain independence!"
What's clear is that power wheelchairs can have a tremendous impact on those in need of mobility assistance – it can change their lives. For instance, Keli Babcock, 27, of Ogden, said her wheelchair has allowed her to achieve many accomplishments, despite facing significant medical challenges. Babcock, who was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Utah a year ago, was born with a condition that eventually cramped her lungs and required that she use a ventilator. Ten years ago, Medicare provided her with a complex rehabilitation wheelchair that also accommodates her ventilation equipment. With this mobility assistance, she has earned a bachelor's degree in social work from Weber State University and she has a job helping others overcome their disabilities.
"I wouldn't be able to get very far without the power wheelchair," Babcock said. "I wouldn't be able to even leave my home. I wouldn't have been able to get my degree or to work. The wheelchair has allowed me to be active and to live an active life. It has meant everything to me."
The American Association for Homecare represents durable medical equipment providers, manufacturers, and other organizations in the homecare community. Members serve the medical needs of millions of Americans who require oxygen equipment and therapy, mobility assistive technologies, medical supplies, inhalation drug therapy, home infusion, and other medical equipment and services in their homes. The Association's members operate more than 3,000 homecare locations in all 50 states. Visit www.aahomecare.org.
SOURCE American Association for Homecare