Medicare: Come Clean About The Scooter Store
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Aug 01, 2014
It’s 3 p.m. in Southern California when my phone rings. This time of day — too late for most of the industry to be calling — I know who’s probably on my line.
“Hello,” a hesitant voice says. “Do you repair scooters?”
I explain that I’m a reporter, not a technician. “You searched the Internet for The Scooter Store and read a story I wrote,” I say. “I can’t repair your vehicle.”
The silence that follows conveys confusion, fatigue and sometimes, fury.
“But I need help,” the voice insists. “The company that sold it to me is out of business.”
I get so many of these calls that I’ve created a list of resources, with (800) MEDICARE on top. People for Quality Care’s number is on there too, when that first number doesn’t help. I warn callers that the people staffing (800) MEDICARE will give them a list of dealers that hasn’t been vetted. Medicare will say those dealers will help, but the dealers can’t because Medicare typically balks at reimbursing for Scooter Store equipment repairs. Many other beneficiaries have told me this.
This particular caller is a woman who has put me on speaker phone and seems to barely hear me. We keep shouting hello at each other at various intervals.
After I explain that I’m not a repair tech, I say I have phone numbers she can call for help. Does she have an e-mail address I can send them to?
“Yes,” she says. “815 North –“
“No,” a man in the background interrupts. “Your e-mail address, not where you live.”
“Oh,” the woman says. “No, I don’t have e-mail.”
I read the info to her instead: “Call Medicare first. The number is 1-800-MEDICARE.”
“After the 1, what’s the rest of the number?”
“800-MEDICARE.” I spell slowly, twice. “And if they can’t help, call the People for Quality Care’s Medicare complaint hotline. That’s 1-800-404-8702.”
“It’s 400, then what?”
“No, Ma’am, it’s 800-404-8702.” I repeat this three times.
“Okay,” she finally says. “Call that number first?”
“No, Ma’am. Call the Medicare number first.”
“Okay, give me that number.”
“It’s the 800-MEDICARE number.”
“Right, the 400 number you gave me. That’s Medicare, right?”
We go round and round. She eventually says she has the numbers, but I doubt it.
As I hang up, I realize what Medicare is counting on: So many beneficiaries who need mobility repairs won’t meaningfully complain. They read my story and can’t grasp that I’m a reporter, not a mechanic. What are the chances they’ll call their Senators? Set up an appointment with their members of Congress? Schedule conference calls with Medicare?
I understand Medicare’s reluctance to repair vehicles it believes should never have been issued. But Medicare needs to take responsibility for its part in this mess, rather than making innocent providers deliver the bad news. Medicare needs to say, “We believe most vehicles we purchased from the Scooter Store were not properly issued. Therefore, to have us repair your vehicle, you will need new and current medical documentation from a qualified clinician. Otherwise, equipment dealers will decline to perform the repairs because we will not reimburse them for parts and labor.”
Medicare, the generation who raised us deserves the entire truth — not just the convenient partial truth you’re telling them now.
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Mobility Management.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.