Last year's changes, this year's new norm

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Last year was another difficult year for wheelchair providers. Medicare cut reimbursement by 9.5% and changed its billing policy for repairs. As a result, numerous providers began limiting their service visits and shrinking their geographic areas to reduce expenses.

While customers weren't happy about the changes (and still aren't), this year, it's the new normal, providers say.

"Some customers understand and some don't," said Ron Burns, director of the rehab department at Home Support Systems in Springfield, Mo. "But we just can't afford to send out (delivery and repair technicians) like we used to."

Burns split up his geographic area into territories and now visits those territories for service visits only on certain days, a practice he calls "looping." If there's an emergency in a territory on an off day, he asks his customers to please come to him.

"We have an emergency every now and then where we have to help out, but it's worked out pretty well, actually," Burns said. "When we drop off a new piece of equipment, we tell them right out front when their service day is. They've become used to it."

Jim Travis drew a 40-mile radius around Buffalo Wheelchair in West Seneca, N.Y., and now he tries not to deliver or service customers outside of that area.

"We used to go out one to two hours," said Travis, the company's president. "But now you get out there to adjust a pair of brakes and you can bill only in 15-minute increments."