Study: Power wheelchairs save Medicare money

Sunday, January 4, 2004

January 5 , 2004

BRYAN, Texas - Each Medicare recipient who retains mobility through the use of a power wheelchair or scooter saves taxpayers more than $5,300 over a three-year period after paying back Medicare's original expenditure, according to a new national study sponsored by the Scooter Store, the nation’s largest provider of power wheelchairs.

These savings, which could total in the billions of dollars, are the result of beneficiaries remaining healthier overall than others who do not have the benefit of such mobility assistance, according to the study.

RRC Inc., a nationally recognized research group with broad healthcare expertise, conducted the year-long study. Members of the Bryan, Texas-based RRC project team included a number of past and current professors at neighboring Texas A&M University.

The study found the most significant savings were in inpatient expenses related to hospitalization. Other major savings were found in home health care, skilled nursing and carrier costs. Such savings do not take into consideration savings that accrue to Medicaid as a result of many elderly Americans being able to delay or forego the need for more expensive nursing home care.

The researchers used comprehensive data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on a sample of five percent of all Medicare beneficiaries in the years 1994 - 2001. Total healthcare costs paid for those who received mobility assistance based on medical necessity was compared against total costs paid for a control group of Medicare beneficiaries who had similar diagnoses and would have qualified for power mobility vehicles, had they submitted a claim.

"We found that statistically significant savings persisted for at least 12 quarters after obtaining the powered vehicle,” said Dr. Donald R. House, president of RRC. “The powered vehicle appears to enable qualified individuals to remain mobile longer, which reduces total Medicare claims over this period."

These research findings are consistent with declarations made by many of those utilizing this equipment and other published works, House said.

The study tracked total Medicare claims paid for the sample subjects following actual delivery of a power wheelchair or scooter and for sample subjects who would have qualified for such equipment, had they made such a request. The claims comparison between these two groups formed the basis of the study.

Doug Harrison, president and founder of The Scooter Store, said that the academic study was undertaken to quantify the relationship between a person's ability to maintain his or her freedom and independence through power mobility equipment and overall health.

"When we call on our customers to see how they are doing and to answer any questions, almost without fail they appear happier, healthier and more able to enjoy life after they have regained their mobility," Harrison noted. "The study findings confirm more than a decade of experience and anecdotal evidence that we have seen on the positive health impact of retained mobility.

Independent researchers have reviewed and approved the study's methodology, and that further analysis will be conducted once 2002 data is available from Medicare, House said.