Researchers call for re-evaluating wheelchair policies

Friday, May 4, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Recent changes in Medicare reimbursement policy, including competitive bidding, may be contributing to a sharp increase in the number of wheelchair breakdowns, according to a study released this week.

About 53% of wheelchair users reported one or more breakdowns that required repairs per six-month period from 2006-11, up from 45% from 2004-06, according to the study, which will be published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in June.

“This paper should serve as a call to re-evaluate and revise current policies and standards testing for wheelchair prescription in the United States,” stated Dr. Michael Boninger of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, who led the study.

Boninger and colleagues analyzed data from an ongoing survey study of more than 700 wheelchair-dependent SCI patients, all of who used their wheelchairs at least 40 hours per week.

According to the study, the average number of repairs per person also increased: 1.42 in 2006-11 vs. 1.03 in 2004-06. The rate of adverse consequences of breakdowns, such as being stranded, increased as well: 30.5% in 2006-11 vs. 22% in 2004-06.

Other findings of the study: Power wheelchairs, especially those with power seat functions, had more problems than manual wheelchairs; and users whose wheelchairs were funded by Medicare or Medicaid had higher rates of breakdowns and consequences compared to those covered by private insurance or other sources, such as the Department of Veteran Affairs or workers’ compensation.

In addition to re-evaluating policies and standards testing, researchers recommend educating wheelchair users on the importance of routine maintenance, such as replacing cushions, caster wheels and batteries at recommended times.

Read the report here:



I've found that power wheelchairs do intend to breakdown more on those that use them, however with developments in technology that make these chairs affordable and more advanced, I do not see this as a major problem going forward. With proper research and preventative care, I'm sure breakdowns can be avoided as long as they are bought from a trusted source.

Just my opinion....Integrity is lacking!  Huge entities (I won't name names, but you see the late night commercials) that are in the business for the insurance billing aspect alone, have units made specifically for them - they are very cheap in every aspect.  When a chair or scooter is issued by insurance (from the specific entity), it used to be the same as you could buy in any DME/HME store.  Now, these billing entities are having units built specifically for them at a lower cost (and obviously lower quality) to issue to end users and bill insurance the same amount they always have; only now, they've paid less and delivered a product of less quality AND, they make more money - win/win for them.  Thus, people are having more issues becuase the quality has plummeted.  In addition to that, specific entities do not have "stores" therefore, they cannot offer service in a timely manner.  It's important to do research and make sure you know what you are getting and more importantly, where and who will be available to service it for you in the future.  This is the reason i think you see an increase in "issues/breakdowns" with powerchairs and scooters issued.  At least one of the entities representing Medicare are having units manufactured specifically for the Medicare reimbursement.  This is sickening as the people who need to use thier insurance and do not have the luxury of paying out of pocket, get the worst end of the deal...