AAHomecare Releases "State of Medicare Mobility" Report; Competitive Bidding Complaints Accumulate

The American Association for Homecare (AAHomecare) has released a "State of the Medicare Mobility Benefit" report, as the organization also continues to collect complaints on Medicare's competitive bidding program, now underway.

"The State of the Medicare Mobility Benefit has never been more troubling, and perplexing," the report says.

The report states that policy changes and regulations during the last decade have limited the effectiveness of the Medicare benefit "that is used by senior citizens and people living with disabilities to obtain power wheelchairs prescribed by their physicians."

Among the culprits, according to the report: competitive bidding and the elimination of the first-month purchase option for standard power chairs, both of which went into effect on Jan. 1.

The report also mentions "excessive audits and denial of reimbursement claims," saying those factors "are combining to place serious doubt on whether Medicare beneficiaries can continue to receive medically required power mobility equipment that enhances their quality of life and ultimately saves taxpayer dollars."

The report singled out Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas as being especially in danger: "Across the country, especially in rural areas, there will be Medicare patients holding prescriptions for power wheelchairs who will be unable to find providers that can supply them with wheelchairs in a timely manner, and perhaps not at all."

Recent power mobility policies have also taken a toll among suppliers, the report said, many of whom are small-business owners: "Government policies have jeopardized the sustainability of many small and family businesses, forcing them to consider closing operations or to no longer offer standard power wheelchairs."

The people being hurt, the report added, are "some of the most vulnerable people in our society." It described beneficiaries who use the mobility benefit as being, on average, 71 years old with such illnesses as COPD, diabetes and heart disease.

The report described two consumers - a 71-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, and a 66-year-old woman with arthritis - who benefited from receiving power wheelchairs via Medicare. The report also pointed out that beneficiaries who use power chairs reduce their risk of falls, which can save Medicare money in the long term.

On the supplier end, the report asked, "Can their businesses survive?" and pointed out that suppliers "have endured reimbursement cuts from $5,699 in 2003 to $2,554 this year for standard power wheelchairs."

The report concluded, "Many providers are at their breaking point."

Go to aahomecare.org/mobility to download the entire report.

AAHomecare also continues to gather complaints about the competitive bidding program from various stakeholders.

In last week's Wednesday in Washington bulletin, the association noted that patients, clinicians and providers have reported a range of problems, including difficulty in finding equipment providers to work with; delays in obtaining medically required equipment and services; longer hospital stays caused by confusion in discharging patients who require home-based care; reduced quality of equipment; fewer choices in equipment or providers; and confusing or incorrect information being supplied by Medicare.

"Also, providers are reporting that some hospitals are only using HME providers that won multiple contracts under the bid system, effectively excluding those providers that only won contracts for one or two HME categories," the bulletin said. "This is effectively further reducing the pool of homecare providers available to serve seniors and people with disabilities who depend on home medical equipment and services."

AAHomecare is asking stakeholders with competitive bidding complaints to call (888) 990-0499 or to go to biddingfeedback.com.

The National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES) is also asking people with competitive bidding complaints to call the AAHomecare toll-free phone number or to register complaints at competitivebiddingconcerns.com.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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