Wheelchair voucher program delayed, but back on track

Monday, June 30, 2003

WASHINGTON - After unanticipated delays, the wheelchair voucher program is gathering steam as participating rehab companies begin teaching consumers how to select their own wheelchairs.

In April, Alpha One in Portland, Maine, identified its first candidate through an extensive selection process, including an assessment of need conducted by a physician.

“We give them skills training - what type of research needs to be done, what the vendor offers for services and repair, warranty information and all the questions that are important to ask,” said Dennis Fitzgibbons, director of operations. “They actually learn how to be a good consumer. It’s more than picking out what color you like.”

By bringing the consumer in on the process, the program aims to eliminate fitting errors and to reduce the chance that the individual ends up in the wrong type of wheelchair, Fitzgibbons said.

The program, the Medicare Consumer-Directed DME Demonstration, was designed in 1995 as a way to teach beneficiaries how to select a wheelchair and how to negotiate its price. In 1998, CMS granted four Centers for Independent Living (CIL) $150,000 to kick off the program.

Sources say more pressing issues, like competitive bidding, forced CMS to delay the program, which was slated to take off last summer. The program also had to shake off an inherent conflict of interest. Under its original charter, suppliers could could sell their own equipment to the client.

Today, Nashville, Tenn.-based CIGNA is the DMERC of record. The four-year program began its implementation phase in January.

“It got off to a slow start that never really built momentum,” Fitzgibbons said. “But ultimately it will be a good program. It’s good because it gets into prior approval at Medicare and that’s good for the DME industry.” HME