A familiar foe: wheelchair pricing


The Sun Sentinel in Florida took on wheelchair pricing this week in a feature it calls "Waste Watch: Investigating Where Our Tax Dollars Go."

I probably don't have to tell you that the author of the article compared Medicare vs. Internet pricing for wheelchairs. She states, for example, that Medicare paid $800 for a provider to supply a manual wheelchair to the wife of one Alan Siegel of Fort Lauderdale, a wheelchair that any Tom, Dick or Harry can buy for $99 online.

The author cites other low-hanging fruit: That the fee schedule for wheelchairs and other DME is based on the average amount providers charged Medicare in 1986, an amount adjusted for inflation but not the advances in technology that make the equipment cheaper to produce; that the discrepancy in pricing affects not only Medicare but also beneficiaries, who pay 20% co-pays; and that the competitive bidding program will reduce the fee schedule for certain products by, on average, 32%.

After reading the feature, one provider e-mailed me, calling the feature "shoddy journalism":

Did the reporter consider that the wheelchairs are delivered, assembled, repaired and often replaced? Are the costs of fuel, salaries, healthcare benefits, insurance and accreditation the same today as in 1986? If people want to buy a wheelchair over the Internet, they should go right ahead.

Liz Beaulieu