Thanksgiving is next week, so I’m thinking of what I’m thankful for in Complex Rehab Technology (CRT). (My wish list for 2024, as you probably guessed, will follow soon.)
At the top of my list — no surprise here — is the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) decision in May to fund power seat elevation on power wheelchairs for Medicare beneficiaries. As a follow-up, CMS will hold a Nov. 30 public meeting about seat elevation coding and allowables.
Given the wealth of clinical information on how seat elevation supports everything from safer, more efficient transfers to less laborious reaching during mobility-related activities of daily living, the CMS decision is logical. But when I joined the CRT industry in 2002, many industry experts said wishing for Medicare coverage for seat elevation was pie in the sky.
Well, pass the ice cream and hand me a fork. We now have seat elevation funding thanks to your faithful, determined efforts.
H.R. 5371 & Freedom of Choice
Also on my list: H.R. 5371, the Choices for Increased Mobility Act of 2023. This bill would provide a way for Medicare beneficiaries to pay out of pocket to upgrade to a titanium or carbon fiber frame for their ultralightweight manual wheelchairs.
I’m thankful that if this bill passes, Medicare beneficiaries would be able to pay for just the upgrade, instead of paying for the entire wheelchair up front and then waiting for partial reimbursement. This bill would improve access, as it is much easier just to pay for the upgrade rather than paying the cost of the entire chair.
And I’m thankful that this feels like such an obvious “yes.” During the NCART-NRRTS virtual Congressional Fly-In in September, multiple California office staffers that our delegation met with were perplexed by why this even had to be a bill.
To paraphrase them as they scratched their heads: “If this doesn’t cost Medicare anything, why wouldn’t they just allow beneficiaries to upgrade out of pocket? Why does this even have to be legislation?”
But I’m also thankful because this bill feels like CRT stakeholders are going on offense. That we’re all saying wheelchair riders deserve the same freedom of choice that non-disabled consumers get when making out-of-pocket purchases.
So often in CRT, it feels like we’re supposed to be grateful for the funding crumbs and policy scraps we’re allowed to have. H.R. 5371 feels like we’re speaking up. It feels like greater, if not perfect, equity. It feels like freedom.
Fighting for Friendlier Skies
And finally, I’m thankful that airports and airlines are being held more accountable for how they too often treat passengers with disabilities (and how they manhandle their technology).
Airlines have been damaging wheelchairs for as long as wheelchair riders have been buying airplane tickets. Historically, wheelchair riders and their families have suffered in silence and tried to cope by sharing tips on how to prepare wheelchairs for airports and airplane cargo bays.
But now there are smartphones. And wheelchair riders and their families can upload photos and videos to social media, thereby documenting travel disasters in nearly real time.
I am thankful that mainstream media outlets are increasingly covering these devastating acts. A quick Google search today (search words: airline broke wheelchair) brought up stories published by USA Today, the Washington Post, Business Insider, ABC News, the Los Angeles Times, et al. Air Canada has been particularly taken to task: An undercover CBC report filmed Air Canada disconnecting a passenger’s ventilator, as one recent example.
Again, this feels like wheelchair riders going on offense. Past generations wheelchair riders had to settle for paltry airline vouchers as compensation, or decide not to travel at all. Today’s wheelchair riders are holding airlines and airports accountable when their rights are infringed. They are demanding better treatment, for themselves and their technology.
They are demanding equity.
It’s been a banner year. Let’s build on it in 2024.