Significant changes are needed in healthcare reform legislation to prevent senior citizens and the disabled from facing a difficult time obtaining home-care products through Medicare. The current legislation would likely prevent or delay many Medicare beneficiaries from receiving critical medical equipment that helps sustain their lives and allows them to live independently in their homes for longer periods of time.
Unfortunately, in piecing this historic legislation together, lawmakers may have overlooked the fact that some of the changes for medical equipment providers would adversely impact their ability to deliver timely and quality service to Medicare beneficiaries.
To be sure, America's healthcare system must be improved. But there should also be a responsibility to ensure that the changes don't place additional burdens upon Medicare beneficiaries, who are already some of the most vulnerable men and women in our society.
Medicare's power mobility benefit would be hit especially hard.
Currently, Medicare allows a beneficiary to purchase power wheelchair in the first month it is prescribed or rent the equipment for 13 months. The legislation eliminates a beneficiary's early purchase option. Seniors and people living with disabilities, who qualify for power wheelchairs, usually suffer from long-term, chronic conditions so they overwhelming chose the early purchase. Without the first month purchases, providers say they won't have the cash flow to pay the wheelchair manufacturers or provide other services required. Many equipment suppliers anticipate that they may go out of business or no longer offer power wheelchairs, a development that would make it more difficult for beneficiaries to find providers in their area.
Some in Congress recognize the potential danger from ending the early purchase.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter proposed an amendment to preserve the first-month purchase option while obligating suppliers to pay back Medicare when equipment isn't used full term. The Congress, however, quickly showed how much financial concerns are out weighing practical ones: The Specter amendment essentially died when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) contended that only $200 million would be saved over 10 years with his proposal, while lawmakers sought $800 million in savings. The industry maintains that the CBO was wrong, and that much more than $200 million would be saved with Specter's amendment.
Aware that the Congress is fixated on finding savings to pay for healthcare reform, providers are willing to accept further, yet agonizing, reductions in the reimbursement rates for power wheelchairs in exchange for keeping the purchase option and sustaining a process that would at least allow companies to stay in business.
The Senate legislation also accelerates the implementation of the competitive bidding program for Durable Medical Equipment (DME), which includes oxygen, power wheelchairs and other home-care products. Competitive bidding for these products was first implemented last year, but the program was flawed to the point that patients' lives were endangered because of confusion and delays in getting life-sustaining equipment to beneficiaries, hospitals and other institutions. Congress stepped in, and temporarily halted the program in July 2008. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has re-launched the bidding program, but providers say that many of the original problems have not been corrected. The healthcare reform legislation makes matters worse by ordering a rapid expansion of the competitive bidding process before stakeholders can gauge whether the program can avoid putting some of the most vulnerable people in our society at risk.
Once again, some lawmakers recognize that the rush to pay for healthcare reform legislation could have a devastating impact on their constituents. Competitive bidding is projected to save millions of dollars. But Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek is more concerned about his constituents: he has sponsored legislation in the House that would end the competitive bidding experiment and obtain savings for the government by cutting the reimbursement rate for home-care products by 0.25% from 2010 to 2012 and an additional 0.5% in 2015. Moreover, the industry wants to work with CMS to establish a system that allows providers to deliver quality service and products to Medicare beneficiaries at a fair price to the government.
Comprehensive healthcare reform is long overdue, but we must ask our Representatives and Senators in Congress whether the cost of enacting this legislation should include placing new burdens on seniors and people with disabilities. One would hope that this population would benefit from reform, and not be its victims. It's clear that the current legislation delivers critical blows to the companies committed to providing medical equipment to Medicare beneficiaries.
What's unclear is whether enough lawmakers in Congress will recognize the consequences for their constituents back home when there are significant delays in providing medical equipment for Medicare beneficiaries, or only a few companies left to supply the products. There are ways to fix healthcare reform legislation so that the seniors, who built and protected our nation, can live with dignity and independence in their homes during their twilight years.
Let's hope Congress understands how much this means to them.
Support Mobility Now is published periodically by The SCOOTER Store to inform Congress, policymakers and the media about Medicare's power mobility benefit. The SCOOTER Store is committed to helping seniors and people living with disabilities regain their freedom and independence. To learn more about the Medicare power mobility benefit, go to www.SupportMobilityNow.com or call 866-242-3889. A TV ad outlining the benefits of power mobility can be viewed at: www.supportmobilitynow.com/medicare_and_america_at_its_best_tv_ad.asp.