Consumers Say the $#*!dest Things

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Last issue, I mentioned my Abilities Expo conversation with a mother whose 3-year-old son had just been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, and whose pediatrician said a wheelchair would be "no use."

That chat was heartbreaking. The next one required full body armor.

At every consumer show, I am yelled at by a frustrated end-user with no one else to pound on. This year, my foe was a 55-year-old man whose power chair caught my eye because the base was mounted with a Sparco racecar seat. As he paged through the consumer edition magazine I handed him, I commented on his unusual seating "system."

Wrong thing to say.

"Do you know how much this cost?" he asked sternly. Being a graduate of the automotive industry, I actually had a pretty good idea. But he cut me off.

"I paid $155 for this, used," he said. "And wheelchair manufacturers want $5,000 for a seating system. That's what my dealer tells me. What a rip-off. They're all crooks."

Mistake #2: I explained that, unlike the Sparco seat, rehab seating systems can fulfill a number of medically necessary functions, such as pressure relief.

"That's a myth," he said (I'm paraphrasing). "I don't need that. That's just a way to rip us off."

I went for the trifecta: "Well, I'm glad you're not at risk for skin breakdown, but power seating systems are literal lifesavers for clients who —"

"Have you heard of Wheeler-Dealer?" he demanded.

"Yes, I —"

"Rampant fraud," he said. "Rampant!"

After a Wheeler-Dealer rant, he segued to the next victim: his insurance company, who was denying him a K0014 and insisting that all he needed was a K0011. I just let him yell. After a few minutes, he wore himself out.

That was the trouble with MS, he admitted, shoulders slumping. His fatigue seemed to be worsening, he said even more quietly, ever since his wife recently passed away.

"I'm sorry to hear that," I said. Judging from his slight, sad smile, this was the first good thing I'd said. I handed him my business card.

"Let me know if you get your K0014," I said. He gave a half nod and rolled away.

As a mobility/rehab provider, you know better than anyone that some clients don't want to hear explanations so much as they just need to vent. But this man still made me wonder: How much do consumers understand about how equipment prices are set? Sure, they can recite a code or two, but can we make their lives — and our own — easier by offering some funding education?

Our annual reimbursement issue examines this heated topic, as well as some others, such as where the next generation of RTSs will come from. Give it a read, then let me know what you think. Just give me a minute to strap on the armor first.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Mobility Management.

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