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On the Editor's Desk

by: Liz Beaulieu - Thursday, January 28, 2010

The rehab industry continues to make strides strengthening its ties with the disability community. NRRTS announced today that it has appointed Andrew Davis, a wheelchair user, as its first consumer relations/advocacy intern. The organization has charged Davis, a Marietta, Ga., resident and graduate of Kennesaw University, with, first, learning about the industry's efforts to create a separate benefit for complex rehab and, then, educating disability groups about it. Executive Director Simon Margolis told HME News this afternoon:

We've asked him to put together a 20-minute presentation about how he would present this information to a group of consumers with disabilities that has never heard anything about it before. It's tough for us to see the forest from the trees when we start to explain it to all the different groups involved. What does it mean?"

Davis, who in the past has worked as a patient representative for a major hospital and as an advocate for disability issues on a state and local level, attended NRRTS's Continuing Education and Legislative Advocacy Conference (CELA) last year.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Industry stakeholders will convene in St. Louis next week to begin finalizing a white paper that will detail the changes they hope to make to the complex rehab benefit.

“In our workgroup discussions to date, we’ve had some pretty freewheeling discussions, understandably and rightfully so,” said Don Clayback, executive director of NCART, this morning. “Now we need to reign those in and take all the ideas that we’ve talked about and pare them down.”

Stakeholders plan to discuss the white paper with interested parties during a March 4 Webinar (to register for the session at 8:30 a.m. EST, click here; for 5 p.m. EST, click here).

Efforts to create a separate benefit for complex rehab are attracting more attention: During the last Webinar on Jan. 22, about 120 interested parties participated, Clayback says.

“There were about 20 minutes of questions,” he said. “I’m happy to see people are starting to get engaged.”

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Here's a cool story, "Wheelchair mobility at the tip of the tongue," that appeared on CNN's Web site yesterday. It's about a tongue drive wheelchair that's being developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology. The reporter describes the technology this way:

Once he mastered the commands, researchers fitted his tongue with a small magnet, no bigger than a piece of rice. The magnet works like a mouse pad, with the tongue as the cursor. Move the tongue forward and it sends a wireless signal to six sensors in a special headset that cause the wheelchair to move forward. Move the tongue back, and the chair goes into reverse."

When it comes to controlling a wheelchair, why's a tongue better than a keyboard, buttons or a sip and puff device like the one used by Christopher Reeve? One of the researchers working on the technology explains:

These patients, the last thing they want is to look even more different when in a wheelchair. This design helps."

Or take it from 20-year-old Cruise Bogle, who became a paraplegic during a skimboarding accident two years ago:

The wheelchair was pretty crazy. It was awkward at first to control a wheelchair with my tongue, but it got easier as I went on. It is amazing technology, and I can't imagine what else Georgia Tech will turn out in the coming years."

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm sure you read the brief in our NewsWire today about Fortune Magazine naming The Scooter Store one of the 100 best companies to work for in America. The magazine ranked The Scooter Store 38th, above companies like Microsoft and FedEx.

Here are a few other interesting tidbits on The Scooter Store from Fortune:

Here's what Fortune had to say about how it selected the companies:

To choose the 100 Best, we conduct the most extensive employee survey in corporate America. More than 81,000 employees from 353 companies responded to a 57-question survey created by the Great Place to Work Institute.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Thursday, January 21, 2010

ericaYou know, you really do learn about some cool things on Twitter. I saw this tweet from MagicWheels this morning:

T minus 48 hours before Erica Davis and the "Through the Roof" Kilimanjaro climbing and filming crew leaves for Tanzania. Today we shipped the new MagicWheels climb wheels—check them out!"

Who's Erica Davis, I thought? A Google search turned up this story. Erica is a 28-year-old paraplegic athlete, and she's planning to climb the 19,340-foot Mout Kilimanjaro to benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation (supporting sponsors include MagicWheels and Colours Wheelchairs). She'll climb the mountain with help from a group of individuals, including Tara Butcher, a 27-year-old below the knee amputee. The the trip to Tanzania and the climb will be filmed and turned into a documentary titled "Through the Roof":

So cool. Good luck Erica and crew!

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Wednesday, January 20, 2010

rhb-alpine-kid-and-fam2I wrote a story for the October issue about Alpine Home Medical Equipment's "Ride for a Reason," an event, in its second year, that raises money to provide children with new wheelchairs. The folks at Alpine sent me an e-mail last week letting me know that they delivered on their promise, outfitting 13-year-old Francisco Avila-Suarez with a new custom wheelchair. Suarez was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth. Because he didn't qualify for a new wheelchair through his insurance, he used a power wheelchair at school but only a manual wheelchair at home. That meant his father had to carry him over his shoulder wherever he needed to go outside of school. Alpine's "Ride" raised $10,000. The folks at Alpine also delivered a new wheelchair to 5-year-old Christian Tellez. Alpine's owner, Jay Broadbent, and his wife, Kristine, started a foundation called "B in Motion" to organize the ride each year.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Monday, January 18, 2010

Companies like Invacare and organizations like United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) have donated wheelchairs to help with relief efforts in Haiti, where a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the country on Jan. 12. Invacare has donated 175 wheelchairs through MedWish International and UCP Wheelchairs for Humanity has donated 100 wheelchairs to Direct Relief International and 65 wheelchairs to Operation USA. The UCP doesn't want to stop there. It seeks donations so it can provide additional wheelchairs to the most vulnerable—children and adults with disabilities, and victims of the earthquake who have become temporarily or permanently disabled. Click here to help today.

Liz Beauileu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Friday, January 15, 2010

Industry stakeholders reported last week that they’re one step closer to stopping a provision in both the Senate and House healthcare reform bills that would eliminate the first-month purchase option for standard power wheelchairs.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has determined that a “payment reduction alternative” that industry stakeholders helped to craft is budget neutral, says said Seth Johnson, vice president of government relations for Pride Mobility Products.

“As long as it’s budget neutral and as long as there are no other objections, it’s possible that this provision could be air dropped into the healthcare reform bill, effectively replacing the provision that’s currently in there,” he said.

The alternative proposes setting reimbursement rates for standard power wheelchairs for 2011-2014 at consumer price index-urban (CPI-U) less 3.5%. That means, for example, if the CPI-U were 2% in 2011, reimbursement would be negative 1.5%.

Stakeholders encourage providers to lobby their representatives and senators to support the alternative.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We continue to get heated feedback from our TV interview and our subsequent story in the January issue with Doug Harrison, CEO and president of The Scooter Store. First, we heard from "Angry Man." Today, we heard from a reader out in California. He sent us this letter to the editor:

Dear HME Editor:

I read with great curiosity the article in the January edition regard the Scooter Store, and Mr. Harrison’s various and obviously unrestrained and not fully thought out comments. I am still shaking my head in disbelief.

Does Mr. Harrison, in his infinite wisdom, really believe that a DME/HME company can really make a profit from being reimbursed $1,000 for a power wheelchair? Does Mr. Harrison sincerely feel that operating costs, both fixed and variable, in the coming years will be reduced to an extent to allow this? Does Mr. Harrison know something the rest of the world doesn’t?

Our industry has reduced its operating costs to the bone (at least smart providers have), and any room for further reductions is limited, at best. I highly doubt the manufacturers of power wheelchairs will be reducing their selling  cost to a level that would allow any level of profit on a $1,000 ($800 net from Medicare) reimbursement. Is he serious?

Anything lower than the current reimbursements levels will put additional strain on any DME providing power wheelchairs. Various cost studies (which one would assume Mr. Harrison is aware of) have shown that the current reimbursement level less standard operating costs of doing business with Medicare provides an average profit.

Lastly, to even imply that a $1,000 power wheelchair reimbursement could happen is irresponsible, misguided and undisciplined. Talk about leading a horse to water, in this case, CMS.

It’s not bad enough that the reason the industry is being subjected to these rampant audits of power wheelchairs is mainly due to utilization and over-exposure, for which we have only the Scooter Store and their ubiquitous commercials to blame.

Nice job, Mr. Harrison, of looking out for the best interests of our industry.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I had another eye-opening moment today when I read this commentary on Minnesota Public Radio's Web site (for more of these moments, go here and here).

In the commentary, the author, Haddayr Copley-Woods, talks about trying to maneuver the icy and snowy streets of Minnesota with a wheelchair. Even if a sidewalk is clear, the curb cut, where the sidewalk slopes into the street, isn't. Or if the curb cut is clear, it's only clear enough for a pair of feet, not a set of wheels. She wonders: "Why it is acceptable to clear things enough for some of us to pass, but not all?"

Copley-Woods answers that question with a powerful quote from disabled painter named Sunny Taylor:

"The disabled are viewed with sympathy as victims of 'bad luck' who will simply have to accept disadvantage as their lot in life, not as an identity group that is systematically discriminated against."

I don't know about you, but next time I'm shoveling, I won't skip the curb cut.

Liz Beaulieu