Bidding marries manual, power wheelchairs

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

WASHINGTON - Providers of manual wheelchairs have big decisions to make, now that CMS has combined manual and power wheelchairs into one product category for Round 2 of competitive bidding.

That means, to submit a bid, manual wheelchair providers will also have to offer power wheelchairs, scooters and related accessories.

"I think that the fallout from this could be pretty far-reaching," said Rick Perrotta, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Network Medical Supply, which offers both manual and power wheelchairs. "There's a lot of outfits that, by choice, don't do power wheelchairs. The bottom line is, I think you'll have a lot of people who stop doing the manuals because they don't want to do power."

Manual wheelchairs, along with negative pressure wound therapy, are a new addition to Round 2 of competitive bidding.

Many manual wheelchair providers don't have the resources to provide power wheelchairs. To offer power wheelchairs, they would need to hire specialized staff to conduct site visits and complete complicated paperwork, say industry stakeholders. 

"In many cases these are very slow payments that smaller businesses can't cope with," said Wayne Stanfield, president and CEO of NAIMES. "This is going to shove manual wheelchairs into the power market, and that's going to take the smaller suppliers out of the loop."

(On the flip side, power wheelchair providers shouldn't face much difficulty adding manual wheelchairs to their product mix, Stanfield said. "If I'm doing the labor-intensive, paperwork-intensive power chairs, doing manual wheelchairs is a breeze," he said.)

Also troubling: Even though complex rehab has been carved out of competitive bidding, CMS's "standard wheelchair" category includes codes for complex manual wheelchairs and related accessories, says Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products.

"They have no business being included in Round 2," said Johnson.

Despite all the concerns, one manual wheelchair provider managed to find a silver lining.

"In my particular case, I would expand into power chairs so I wouldn't lose my manual wheelchair market," said Wayne Sale, president of Richmond, Va.-based Health First. "It may add to my product line and make me more desirable to referral sources. I could see it being an opportunity if you wanted to grow."