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New Coalition Launches Campaign to Rescind Medicare Restrictions on Power Wheelchairs

Industry Joins with Senior Citizen and Disability Organizations to Fight New Medicare Guidelines

January 1, 2004
Source: Restore Access to Mobility Partnership

The wheelchair industry and leading senior, disability, consumer, clinical and medical organizations today launched a campaign to restore Medicare coverage benefits for patients requiring power wheelchairs.

Together national organizations and the industry coalition, known as RAMP -- the Restore Access to Mobility Partnership -- are calling on the White House, Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services to persuade the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to rescind the new policy.  CMS oversees administration for Medicare and Medicaid.

"The December policy change will have a major impact on our nation's seniors and people with disabilities," said World Institute on Disability Executive Director Deborah Kaplan.  "This is a severe blow to our citizens as tens of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries could lose access to power wheelchairs, which can significantly improve their health and quality of life. Just as many seniors and disabled people are beginning to realize that a power wheelchair can allow them to function independently, this decision could instead deprive many of basic mobility.  It must be changed."

Under the new guidelines, any patient able to walk any number of steps, without regard for function or safety, they will not qualify for a power wheelchair.  This restriction includes patients with cardiopulmonary disease whose limbs allow them to walk but whose lives may be endangered if they do. Moreover, patients with progressive neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and ALS, may also be denied wheeled mobility until they become 100 percent bed or chair confined.

"This new policy is totally unjust to disabled beneficiaries who need wheelchairs for basic mobility and it will cost taxpayers more over time," said Andrew J. Imparato, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).  "Without power wheelchairs, many beneficiaries will be at risk of having to forfeit their independence and go to a nursing home to get the care they need.  Studies have shown that the extra costs could reach $26 billion a year, and that Medicare would have to pay an additional $13,000 a year for each disabled beneficiary."

Working with RAMP on this effort are organizations including Advancing Independence, AAPD, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and WID.  All of these organizations are members of ITEM -- Independence Through Enhancement of Medicare and Medicaid -- a diverse coalition of over 70 disability, aging, consumer groups, labor and voluntary health associations.

"Because of this 'policy clarification' people with Medicare that require a wheelchair to move about in their own home will not be able to receive one from Medicare if they are able to take a few steps, raising the likelihood that people will incur more fractures due to falls in their home," said Lee Page, associate advocacy director of PVA.  "It makes absolutely no sense to wait until consumers can't get out of bed or a chair before they are able to qualify for a wheelchair."

Across the country, the impact is already being felt.  In Pittsburgh, Sister Scholastica Rzepka of Sisters of the Holy Spirit was recently informed that her claim for a wheelchair had been denied.  "This is a terrible thing for people with disabilities and senior citizens to have to deal with," said Annette Kasper, a nurse at the convent.  Sister Scholastica may get to keep her wheelchair, but only if the supplier takes a loss from not receiving the Medicare reimbursement.

"We are going to work with groups representing people with disabilities, senior citizens, clinicians, physicians, consumers and others to put this important issue on the national agenda," said Mal Mixon, Chairman and CEO of Invacare Corp.  "Americans need to know that the Administration has taken an action that is not in the best interest of their loved ones, whether they are family, neighbors or friends.  This new policy creates a situation where millions of people whose quality of life could be vastly improved are denied a better existence."

The Restore Access to Mobility Partnership is a coalition of organizations and companies representing power wheelchair providers and manufacturers.  Its members include:  the American Association of Homecare; Invacare Corporation; the MED Group; Mobility Products Unlimited, LLC; Pride Mobility; The SCOOTER Store; and Sunrise Medical.  

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