“Fleecing of America” spotlights PWC fraud

Sunday, November 23, 2003

November 24, 2003

YARMOUTH, Maine - The Wheeler Dealer power wheelchair scam continues to haunt and dirty the reputation of legitimate providers.

In mid-November, the Associated Press penned and distributed a story highlighting Medicare’s “fastest growing new swindle.” That story ran on the front pages of newspapers all over the country. On Nov. 20, NBC Nightly News featured the Wheeler Dealer scam during its “Fleecing of America” segment. Both stories gave short shrift to the work of legitimate providers. Instead, they focused on the sensational antics of crooks who have collected millions of dollars by billing Medicare for unnecessary power wheelchairs.

“When you break it down, we are talking about a small percentage of companies that play these shenanigans,” said Steve Azia, legal counsel for the Powered Mobility Coalition, who was quoted in the Associated Press story. “Unfortunately, the lowest common denominator sometimes defines you.”

Gary Gilberti, vice chair of AAHomecare’s rehab council, said the industry has a PR issue, and that CMS officials seem to paint all providers with the same brush. All the news focusing on Wheeler Dealer has “absolutely” tainted his company.

“Some of the new customers and referral sources will say you are just one of those wheeler dealer guys,” Gilberti said. “I go through a quick introduction of who we are and they go, ‘Oh, you are different.'”