Universities to conduct power mobility study

Sunday, February 24, 2008

WASHINGTON - With Congress, CMS and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) breathing down its neck, NCART in February commissioned an independent study of the services and costs associated with providing complex power wheelchairs.

"We've talked about the different models for complex rehab and standard mobility, and (government officials) nod their heads, but they don't adequately acknowledge the differences in their coverage policy and pricing," said Sharon Hildebrandt, NCART's executive director. "We need data to show them that, yes, the delivery models for complex rehab and standard mobility are significantly different, and their patients are significantly different."

Georgia Tech University and the University of Buffalo will conduct the two-year study, which will take place under the auspices of the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation. Researchers will examine services provided (i.e. evaluations, simulations, fittings); time spent; costs incurred; and outcomes achieved.

NCART plans to use the findings from the study to better make its case against eliminating the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs, including complex rehab in national competitive bidding and using Internet pricing to set Medicare fee schedules.

The rehab industry has commissioned service and cost studies in the past, but it relied on self-reporting, so government officials never took them seriously, NCART officials said.

"Because we're working with academic institutions and researchers, this study will have increased credibility," said Don Clayback, part of NCART's executive leadership and vice president of government relations for The MED Group.

NCART officials acknowledge that they probably should have commissioned the study sooner, but since 2005, they've been putting out fire after fire. Additionally, they knew the study would be expensive: $150,000 to $200,000.

"We talked about the study three years ago, but we never did anything because of the costs associated with it," Hildebrandt said. "But we can't put it off anymore. Two years from now, if we don't do it, we're going to look back and say, 'Why didn't we do it?' which is what we're doing now. We've just reached the point of no return."

Over the next two years, NCART must raise $100,000 from providers, manufacturers, state associations and other groups to fund the study. The organization suggests members commit $1,000 per year, over and above dues.