First-month purchase option for power wheelchairs: 'Doc fix' disappoints

Thursday, December 9, 2010

WASHINGTON - Members of Congress last week delayed cuts to physician payments, but they didn't delay the elimination of the first-month purchase option for standard power wheelchairs.

Industry stakeholders had identified the "doc fix" as a good vehicle for their bipartisan, budget-neutral provision to delay the elimination of the purchase option for one year. Members of Congress, however, kept the bill's focus very narrow, according to Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products.

"They indicated that there was a list 10 miles long of other provisions that various groups were trying to have added to the doc fix to make various changes," he said. "The only additions to the doc fix that were allowed were Medicare extenders that had been previously extended earlier in the year, like the therapy caps."

On Jan. 1, Medicare plans to start paying for standard power wheelchairs over 13 months, making them a capped rental. Industry stakeholders seek a one-year delay in exchange for a 1% reduction in the consumer price index-urban scale (CPI-U).

Though industry stakeholders must chalk up the "doc fix" as a lost opportunity, there are other pieces of legislation that members of Congress must pass before they adjourn sometime this week, like an appropriations bill, Johnson said.

"We're hearing from lawmakers that there's still time to get this done this year," he said. "So we're just in high gear, doing what we can to push through any opportunities."

Delaying the elimination of the purchase option remains a "no-brainer," Johnson said.

"The biggest concern is the loss of jobs and access to these products, especially in the more rural outlying areas where there may only be one provider today," he said.

Members of Congress passed a doc fix that delays a 25% cut to physician payments for one year. The bill's price tag--an estimated $19 million--will be paid for by tweaking certain provisions in the new healthcare reform bill.