Healthcare reform: Senate eyes power chair cut

Sunday, July 5, 2009

WASHINGTON - The Senate, like the House of Representatives, will likely include a provision to eliminate the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs in its healthcare reform bill, but with a few tweaks, industry stakeholders said last week.

The Senate provision will likely frontload payments, so that providers receive 45% of the fee schedule amount within 90 days, they said.

"The providers we've spoken to say frontloading payments doesn't help much because, in addition to acquiring products, there are other upfront costs to providing equipment in an appropriate manner--evaluation, fitting, setup, delivery, training, etc.," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. "It would still be extremely difficult to provide power wheelchairs under the provision."

Industry stakeholders expect the Senate and the House to mark up their draft healthcare reform bills this week and introduce legislation by the end of July. That would clear the way for the House and Senate to work on a combined bill in August and pass it in September, and for President Barack Obama to sign it in October.

In addition to frontloading payments, the Senate provision will likely exempt complex power wheelchairs. Again, that doesn't help much, industry stakeholders said.

"There are few pure complex rehab providers out there," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. "Because the margins have become so slim, any additional hits would be crippling to both the standard and complex power wheelchair communities."

With both the Senate and House draft healthcare reform bills still in flux, industry stakeholders encourage providers to keep the pressure on lawmakers, particularly those who sit on the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.

"We just have to do all that we can right now to influence the eventual outcome," Johnson said.