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Power Wheelchairs Keep Medicare Beneficiaries Out of Nursing Homes, While Reducing Government Costs and Providing More Freedom and Independence
Date:5/5/2011

OCEANSIDE, Calif., May 5, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For Judith Talnadge, a power wheelchair provided through Medicare is the difference between living independently in her apartment, with opportunities to visit with friends and engage in the community, or being confined to a nursing home.

Those starkly different living environments are the only options available for Talnadge, a 40-year-old woman, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and spina bifida.  These medical conditions have severely limited her mobility, confining her to a power wheelchair since 1994.  

"If it wasn't for this power wheelchair, I would be in a nursing home right now," Talnadge said, acknowledging dependence on her complex rehabilitation wheelchair that helps provide the mobility that her own body can no longer perform.

"I'm grateful that Medicare is providing me with a power wheelchair that allows me to live a better life," Talnadge said. "I enjoy being with my friends, taking care of pets and being active in my home and community.  For a few years, I volunteered at the train station, where I was a station ambassador and provided travel information and directions to passengers at the tracks.  I've been looking for other ways to volunteer, but lately people look at my wheelchair and say that I can't do the job.  But I keep trying."

Across the country, thousands of Medicare patients are similar to Talnadge. They suffer from medical conditions ranging from muscular dystrophy to cardiopulmonary diseases, progressive neurological diseases and other disorders limiting their mobility. If they don't have caregivers, they may be placed in nursing homes unless they can safely perform activities of daily living such as grooming, getting to the bathroom and preparing food for themselves.

Physicians prescribe power wheelchairs because the technological advancements can allow Medicare patients to perform the activities of daily living, while also providing patients with freedom and independence, greatly enhancing their quality of life.  In addition, power wheelchairs cut government healthcare costs. Medicare patients have fewer emergency room visits resulting from falls when they have power wheelchairs, which are also cost-effective alternatives to confinement in a nursing home.  

"It certainly seems reasonable that our national policy should be to provide power wheelchairs to Medicare patents when they are prescribed by their physicians,'' said N.J. Davis RN., P.H.N., M.S.N., who owns Prime Medical Supply, Inc. in Corona, Ca.

"It is an economical solution to improving the mobility of Medicare patients, like Judith Talnadge," Davis said.  "We provided her power wheelchair, and we have seen how much mobility means to her, and how much it allows her to do in life.  People living with disabilities shouldn't be confined to nursing homes when there are economical alternatives. Judith has so much to give to her friends and her community.  The power wheelchair allows her the freedom to do it."

Unfortunately, government policies are making it more difficult for home medical equipment providers to supply power wheelchairs to Medicare beneficiaries.

Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have implemented a series of reimbursement cuts, a flawed competitive bidding program, confusing documentation rules and other policy changes that undermine the ability of providers to supply power wheelchairs to Medicare patients, even though they have prescriptions from their doctor.  For instance, the government mandates that rental payments be made to providers rather than allowing Medicare beneficiaries to purchase their own power wheelchairs. This policy forces Medicare patients to lose the comfort of owning the wheelchair so crucial to their mobility, while providers must deal with a challenging economic environment in which they must pay manufacturers for the power wheelchairs and then receive reimbursements in 13 monthly payments.

"It is inconceivable that the government has enacted healthcare reform legislation that is supposed to improve the quality of healthcare for our nation, yet Medicare, the government healthcare program, continues to enact policies that are restricting the availability of power wheelchairs for patients who have prescriptions from their physicians and need power wheelchairs to improve their mobility, live independently in their homes and improve their quality of life," said Tyler Wilson, CEO and president of the American Association for Homecare (AAHomecare).  

The Medicare program provides healthcare for people 65 and over, as well as for Americans of any age who live with disabilities such as muscular dystrophy.  Medicare beneficiaries, such as Talnadge, deserve opportunities to improve their mobility, and enjoy freedom and independence.  People living with physical disabilities shouldn't be denied opportunities for more fulfilling lives.   "The new Medicare regulations are ridiculous," Talnadge said. "Power wheelchairs are very important to people who need them."

Working with friends, Talnadge has made custom improvements to her power wheelchair.  Unable to operate the joy stick control because her hands are too weak, she designed a different control mechanism that works well.  She also redesigned the headrest and the harness, making them more comfortable.  And, she has a place for her water bottle and iPod when using the chair.

Needless to say, her power wheelchair plays a special role in her life.  Occasionally, she has to scold bus drivers for mishandling her chair.

"I am overly protective of it," she said.  

Mobility Matters is published periodically by the American Association for Homecare to inform Congress, the administration, policymakers, consumer organizations and the media about Medicare's power mobility benefit, and the need to sustain it. AAHomecare 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.aahomecare.org/mobility. American Association for Homecare - 2011 Crystal Drive, Suite 725, Arlington, Virginia 22202 -703.836.6263


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SOURCE American Association for Homecare
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