Advocates, Providers Ask Congress to Delay Implementation of New, Mandatory Rental Policy
SAN ANTONIO, Dec. 20, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Since 1988, San Antonio resident Martha Oliver, 69, has used a power wheelchair that has allowed her to remain independent in her home.
She lives alone, but with help from the power wheelchair provided through Medicare and occasional visits from her daughter, she can groom, eat, and get to the bathroom. Because she can perform these daily necessities of life, Oliver can stay in the home she loves, rather than being placed in a nursing home or another care facility.
But now, like many other Medicare beneficiaries and home medical equipment providers, she is worried about whether new policies and regulations will allow Medicare patients to continue receiving power wheelchairs in the future.
"This power wheelchair is very important to me because I don't have the strength to push a manual wheelchair," said Oliver, who had polio and open heart surgery. "With the power wheelchair, I can do many things in my home for myself, and my daughter helps me with cooking. The power wheelchair allows me to have independence."
But Oliver is scheduled to receive a replacement power wheelchair next year, and even though she certainly should continue to qualify for it, she still worries about whether changes in Medicare policy will make obtaining a new power wheelchair more difficult. "I'm supposed to receive a replacement chair in 2011," she said, "but with all the changes I don't know if I'll get it."
Access to power mobility assistance for Medicare beneficiaries may be jeopardized by a new law that ends the first-month purchase option for patients.
With the elimination of this option, the government plans to reimburse providers through rental payments over the first 13 months that a patient has a power wheelchair. But in the sluggish economy, most providers are unable to obtain the financing they need to transition to this change. The change is scheduled to be implemented in two weeks, on January 1, but providers, consumer 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 significant cash flow problems created by the new policy. Many providers say they will no longer offer power wheelchairs or even close their businesses because of this policy change.
The minimal cost to delay this provision would be fully paid for by a one percent reduction in reimbursement rates for standard power wheelchairs, and would not add a penny to the deficit.
Providers estimate that the new rental policy scheduled to begin January 1 will slash their cash-on-hand by 40 percent in the first year. In addition, the transition to providing rented power wheelchairs carries financial risks that some providers may be unwilling to take. For instance, if a patient is placed in a nursing home or dies during the rental period, the providers must pick up the power wheelchair and custom accessories from the patient, and the government rental payments will end for that patient.
There are also repercussions for Medicare patients. Providers would have an inventory of used wheelchairs that might be re-rented to other Medicare beneficiaries, giving them used equipment that might not fit their specific needs as well as a new power wheelchair customized for them.
Clearly, many lawmakers recognize the scope of the pro