Senators come to industry's aid

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

WASHINGTON - Powerful industry allies in the U.S. Senate succeeded last month in eliminating a proposal that would have prohibited beneficiaries from buying a power wheelchair in the first month of rental.
The proposal was part of the Senate's proposed Medicare spending package, which includes language eliminating the cap rental option for durable medical equipment.
Originally, the provision stated "the option for beneficiaries to purchase power wheelchairs at the time they are initially furnished would be moved to the 10th month."
"That sentence scared me to death," said Jim Travis, president of Buffalo Wheelchair in West Seneca, N.Y., who estimated 99% of his clients opt to purchase power wheelchairs up front.
In early November, six senators led by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, crafted an amendment that removed the PWC language from the Senate's bill.
Travis welcomed the news. Had the provision remained in the proposal, he predicted two blows to his business.
"It would have taken me 10 months to get money instead of one month, so we would have had to put all that money up front to pay the vendor," he said. "The other thing is, if it's a custom chair, quite often, after three months, the patient dies or goes into a nursing home. We would have paid $5,000 for the chair and we would have gotten $1,500 back on it in three months. Then we would have been stuck with it."
Another troubling scenario: The base of a wheelchair would have been rented but the accessories would have been purchased.
"There was a big disconnect there," said Don Clayback, who heads up the MED Group's National Rehab Network.
Currently, power wheelchairs are a "special exception," to the capped rental option, Clayback said. That's because, in 99% of cases, patients need power wheelchairs long-term, which makes renting them impractical.
The Senate and House were expected to vote on a compromise Medicare/Medicaid plan by Thanksgiving. Once that happens the plan will be sent to the president for his signature. H