Wheels in Washington, D.C.: UsersFirst Attends CRT Conference

Consumers in wheelchairs were among the stakeholders meeting with elected officials as part of last week's National CRT Leadership & Advocacy Conference - and as ones directly impacted by assistive technology funding cuts, they had plenty to say.

In a blog posting, UsersFirst VP of Community Initiatives Ann Eubank, LMSW, OTR/L, ATP, CAPS, warned consumers, "The wheelchair that works best in your life is disappearing. The main reason is not that the government needs to save money, and wheelchairs are so expensive. It is because we - wheelchair users, wheelchair makers, wheelchair suppliers and advocates - must make our voices heard in Washington, D.C."

As part of that ongoing effort, Eubank reported that stakeholders met with more than 220 legislators last week, "letting them know that 'complex' wheelchairs are necessary medical equipment for us to be able to fully participate in our lives." The event was co-presented by NCART and NRRTS.

Eubank explained in her post that complex wheelchairs are "anything other than what you see on TV or used for transportation in an airport." She went on to say that the total cost of these types of products "is minuscule, infinitesimal, even itsy-bitsy within overall health expenditures in the United States.

"It doesn't make much sense that insurance companies pay thousands and thousands of dollars to save a life with Life Flight, emergency room procedures, surgeries, intensive care stays, rehab stays, home health services, medications, etc., and then not provide necessary medical equipment that facilitates healthy, functional, independent living."

Eubank also reported that conference attendees met with Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), who co-introduced H.R. 942 with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) earlier this year.

“H.R. 942 requires Medicare to treat complex equipment differently than the TV wheelchairs,” Eubank said in her blog as she described the bill that would establish a separate benefit category for complex rehab technology. “It’s a big deal. We need to be seen for what we are: Americans with disabilities with a life to live. And we cannot live the life we choose if we are forced to use cheap, inferior products.”

UsersFirst, a program of United Spinal Association, advocates for greater access to appropriate wheelchairs, scooters and seating systems for people with disabilities while emphasizing solutions that fit the unique needs of individual consumers rather than a “one-size-fits-all” mindset.

“We demand equipment that meets our functional and medical needs,” Eubank said in her post. “When the insurance company says, ‘We don’t pay for wheelchairs that might use outside,’ now it’s personal. Wheelchair users should not ‘just accept what we can get.’ Wheelchair users, like every American, have the right to equal access to the community.”

About the Author

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

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