Industry offers alternative

Monday, August 31, 2009

WASHINGTON -The rehab industry in July was shopping around an alternative to a provision included in draft healthcare reform legislation that would eliminate the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs.

The alternative, according to industry stakeholders, would preserve the first-month purchase option, but if beneficiaries don't use their wheelchairs for 13 months, it would allow CMS to treat the purchases like rentals and require providers to pay the agency back for months not used.

"In the world of sucky situations, this sucks less than eliminating the first-month purchase option and waiting 13 months for full payment," said Tim Pederson, chairman of AAHomecare's Complex Rehab and Mobility Council (CRMC) and CEO of WestMed Rehab in Rapid City, S.D.

The House of Representatives has already approved draft healthcare reform legislation that includes a provision to eliminate the first-month purchase option--for standard but not complex power wheelchairs.

The industry is shopping around the alternative to the  Senate Finance Committee, which hasn't released draft healthcare reform legislation yet.

"We believe this alternative addresses the belief out there that CMS is paying for wheelchairs that people aren't using," said Don Clayback, executive director of NCART. "We don't believe that's the case, but if that's a concern, this addresses it."

The response from lawmakers to the alternative has been positive, but they may have their hands tied, stakeholders say.

"The real problem they have is that they need the dollars," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government relations for Pride Mobility Products. "They're currently not in a position where they can remove any pay-fors from the table."

The industry forges ahead, anyway, because the stakes are so high, stakeholders say.

"The bottom line is that eliminating the first-month purchase option could have more of an impact on rehab than any other cut, including national competitive bidding," said Simon Margolis, executive director of NRRTS. "It's almost a deal-breaker, in terms of being able to provide appropriate equipment." hme