Seat elevation: Users rally around improved technology

Stakeholders say they’re committed to working with Medicare to get it covered
Friday, June 2, 2017

WASHINGTON – There was important work to do to protect accessories during the recent National CRT Conference, but the talk of the town may have been seat elevation technology.

As part of an industry update at the conference, company officials from Pride Mobility Products and Permobil discussed their recent advancements in seat elevation technology, to the applause of wheelchair users in the room.

“One of the reasons this technology resonates so much with users is they can see the direct impact of it,” said John Goetz, director of government affairs for Permobil, in an interview following the event. “They see it and they think, ‘If I had that, think of all the things I could do on my own.’”

While industry stakeholders have done yeoman’s work to get third-party payers and Medicaid programs to cover seat elevation technology on a case-by-case basis, there’s still no Medicare coverage. And therein lies the rub for a large population of users who are on Medicare, or whose insurer mirrors the federal program’s coverage.

Stakeholders are having an “ongoing conversation” with CMS about seat elevation technology, but to date, the agency has stated the technology doesn’t meet the definition of DME because it’s not medically necessary.

“It’s going to take a change in philosophy (at the agency),” said Julie Piriano, vice president of clinical education and rehab industry affairs, and the compliance officer for Pride Mobility Products. “We’re looking for them to view seat elevation like power seat options or tilt and recline—an accessory that’s medically necessary and serves a medical purpose. These efforts are going to continue.”

It’s important to remember, stakeholders say, that while the excitement level around seat elevation technology is the highest it has ever been, the wheels at CMS move slowly. But stakeholders are in it for the long haul.

“We fully recognize that this is going to take time,” Piriano said. “When ultra-light wheelchairs came out, there was no code and it wasn’t covered. No one could see why someone would need a chair with an adjustable axle and that was made of lighter weight materials. It took time and effort for that to be recognized differently. Same for powered tilt.”

Because it will take time, stakeholders acknowledge they need to do a better job multi-tasking: They need to keep the pressure on CMS about seat elevation technology while they, at the same time, lobby the agency and Congress on more urgent matters, like permanently protecting accessories for complex power wheelchairs from competitive bidding related pricing.

“We’re always going to be fighting some battle,” said Don Clayback, executive director of NCART, which hosted the conference with NRRTS. “So we have to make sure nothing gets lost. While we’re fighting on fronts A and B, we can’t let C get lost.”