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On the Editor's Desk

by: Liz Beaulieu - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

If you didn't listen to this morning's media conference call on national competitive bidding–sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Suppliers (PAMS)–you missed out on one hell of a speaker in Lucy Spruill. Spruill is a wheelchair user and director of public policy and community relations for United Cerebral Palsy of Pittsburgh. She joined Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Jason Altmire, D-Pa., in criticizing competitive bidding. Here are some snippets of what she said:

On reduced access:

“(The first round of competitive bidding) would have shunted all of the work currently being done by eight or 10 small- to medium-sized companies in this area to two companies. And the business already exceeds the capability of all those companies. There are often very long waits between ordering a wheelchair and getting it delivered and long waits for getting repairs. If the number of providers is drastically reduced, that’s just going to make a bad situation just completely intolerable.”

On the chaos:

The last time around, it wasn't unlikely that a person who needed, for example, a power wheelchair, oxygen and diabetic supplies, could end up having to deal with three different companies to get their basic medical needs met, some of which would have been out-of-town companies. Let me tell you that is so difficult for an older person or a person with disabilities who's living alone with a complex medical condition."

On the hidden costs:

We're very concerned that if we, again, end up with inexpert bidders, that we're going to consistently get equipment that's not right for us. We know when that happens, one of the results is secondary conditions like bed sores, pneumonia and other infections; depression from staying in the house; and placement in institutions, which is very expensive."

Powerful stuff–stuff that all members of Congress and officials at CMS need to hear.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Monday, November 16, 2009

Don Clayback and crew are moving forward with plans to create a separate benefit for complex rehab, and they want to move forward WITH you.

As such, they've scheduled two more Webinars:

Both Webinars are one hour long. Topic of discussion: "This Webinar will provide an update on activities to date and the next steps that are being undertaken to prepare for legislative and regulatory action as we move into 2010."

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Friday, November 13, 2009

NCART went live this week with a redesigned Web site that’s chock full of resources. The site has been designed to provide information in an easy-to-access format, with sections on advocacy, position papers, Medicaid, educational material, policymakers and members.

“With the coverage and funding issues now and those that lie ahead, our Web site will serve as an important tool in telling the complex rehab technology story and protecting access to these important products and services,” stated Don Clayback, executive director, in a release.

Other features of the site include a database of rehab technology suppliers and a video library.

Check it out!

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Thursday, November 12, 2009

A few blogs back, I wrote about the AARP's support of national competitive bidding. In an editorial in its November bulletin, the AARP delivers another blow to the HME industry, this time specifically to power wheelchairs.

"The Case of the Expensive Wheelchair" reads like a greatest hits of the criticism hurled at the power wheelchair industry in the past year:

  • Utilization: In 1997, Medicare and Medicare beneficiaries paid just over $100 million to buy or lease power wheelchairs; today they pay more than $1 billion.
  • The recent OIG report: The OIG has examined thousands of vouchers and invoices for wheelchairs and reported that the average annual cost to Medicare in 2007 was $4,018, nearly four times the $1,048 paid by suppliers. For more elaborate power wheelchairs, the average Medicare allowance was $11,507, almost twice the $5,880 price paid by suppliers. The 9.5% cut that went into effect Jan. 1 brought the average payment down to $3,641 in 2009, still three times the price paid by suppliers.
  • A quote from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. "At a time when every health care dollar counts, it's infuriating to lean that the government is throwing away money and is still overpaying for power wheelchairs. This translates into hundreds of millions of dollars wasted and cost beneficiaries millions of dollars in copayments. it's only common sense that you don't pay more for something than is on the price tag."

It was hard for me to take the editorial seriously. If you saw the editorial in the bulletin (not online), it featured a picture of the equipment in question. Too bad it's a picture of a scooter and not a power wheelchair.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Did the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board read my blog yesterday, where I questioned why Manila had Wheelmobiles, a public utility vehicle specific for wheelchair users, but many cities in the United States don't?

They didn't, of course, but it was kind of timely this morning, when I saw this article in the Washington Post about the board's plan to have 20 wheelchair-accessible cabs out on the road in Washington, D.C., starting in December. Currently, none of the city's 6,500 cabs are equipped with a wheelchair ramp or lift.

Most neighboring areas, like Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and Alexandria, already have wheelchair-accessible cabs.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

WheelmobileCheck out this article about the Wheelmobile, an "air-conditioned public utility vehicle that caters to anyone using a wheelchair and in need of transportation." The Wheelmobile is a gutted Kia 2700 or Mitsubishi L300 that can transport two people in wheelchairs and two able-bodied companions. It features locking belts that are connected to rails on the floor to keep the wheelchairs in place. To date, there are four Wheelmobiles in use, two rented out for special rates and two available for day excursions on a first come, first served basis.

But don't look for a Wheelmobile in the United States.

They're only in Manila, in the Philippines. The only Wheelmobile I could find in the United States was the Wheel of Fortune's Wheelmobile, a 39-foot long bus that travels the country auditioning contestants for the show.

What does THAT say about our country?

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Friday, November 6, 2009

It's feel-good Friday!

If you're sitting at home on Sunday night, you might want to tune into Extreme Makover: Home Edition. TiLite, a manufacturer of titanium and aluminum wheelchairs, donated a $6,000 custom wheelchair to a veteran whose family will be featured on the show, the News Tribune reported today. The man is a wheelchair athlete and mentor to returning disabled Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, according to Josh Anderson, TiLite's vice president of marketing. TiLite had four days to make the chair and ship, he told the newspaper.

Click here to view photos of the family's house before the makeover.

Added bonus: If you're a fan of country music, American Idol or bubbly blonds, Kellie Pickler will be the show's celebrity volunteer.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Wednesday, November 4, 2009

For starters, RESNA has decided to name the specialty certification seating and mobility specialist (SMS) and make it a modifier to the assistive technology professional (ATP) certification. As a result, an ATP who takes and passes the specialty certification exam will become an ATP/SMS.

Secondly, RESNA has posted an exam outline and study materials to the specialty certification section of its Web site.

Thirdly, it will cost you $250 to sit for the exam.

Go here for more info.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Another story was published today, this time by the Washington Examiner, about a Washington, D.C.-area HME provider that has allegedly billed Medicaid for "deluxe" power wheelchairs and provided beneficiaries with cheaper wheelchairs or even walkers instead.

Doors of Hope, conveniently located on the first floor of the Greater Southeast Hospital in D.C., submitted about $575,000 in claims to Medicaid between 2003 and 2005. More than half of the claims were for power wheelchairs.

But the story doesn't just point a finger at Donna Carney-Barry, Doors of Hope's owner. It also blames the Medicaid program.

Prosecutors said the District's contractor, Affiliated Computer Services, approved more than $550,000 in payments to Doors of Hope. Some were approved even though the bills had not been signed by the patient's doctor, according to charging documents.

Other payments were approved for scooters even though they were specifically not covered by Medicaid, according to court documents."

It takes two to tango (or if you're a fan of Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock: It takes two to make a thing go right). I think prosecutors and the mainstream media are starting to learn that.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Monday, November 2, 2009

I came across an interesting hodgepodge of articles related to power wheelchairs today.

The good: Check this out—a 63-year-old man with muscular dystrophy who volunteers at the Dallas Arboretum. Gardening in a wheelchair? It's not a problem for David Gary!

The (possibly) bad: Does the idea of a mainstream newspaper publishing an article that outlines how to get a power wheelchair paid for by Medicare creep anyone else out, especially when it has no apparent newspeg? Just a public service announcement?

The ugly: City, state and federal government officials continue to keep an eye on Texas, a "hotbed" for power wheelchair fraud.

Liz Beaulieu