Medicare's Wheelchair Policy 'Imprisons' Disabled: Study

The Bush administration's interpretation of Medicare law for wheelchairs and other mobility devices is forcing more than 140,000 Americans into unnecessary isolation and leading to higher health care costs, according to a study released by the Medicare Rights Center, a national consumer group.

'The administration's interpretation of the Medicare law imprisons people in their homes, causing unnecessary pain and suffering,' said the Center's president, Robert M. Hayes, who is an attorney. 'It is wrong and it is illegal.'

The study, 'Forcing Isolation: Medicare 'In the Home' Coverage Standard for Wheelchairs,' recommends that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) change its interpretation of the Medicare law that currently denies coverage of mobility devices, such as power wheelchairs, for use outside of one's home.

Under current policy, the administration will pay 80 percent of the cost of a power wheelchair for a person with Medicare who needs it to move from a bedroom to a kitchen, but not for a person who requires such assistance to leave home for medical care, shopping or even employment, the report found.

'Changes in technology, medicine and law require coverage of equipment that allows a person with disabilities to participate in community activities,' Mr. Hayes said.

In December, the administration further tightened Medicare coverage of wheelchairs which has prompted widespread criticism from an array of consumer groups.

In response to a Medicare Rights Center survey to presidential candidates about Medicare, Senator John Kerry said that he would support administrative initiatives to expand Medicare's coverage of wheelchairs and other durable medical equipment needed to function outside the home.

Although President George W. Bush has yet to respond to the group's Medicare survey, Mr. Hayes said he was hopeful that the President would support the study's key recommendations. 'Although CMS will not modernize its interpretation without White House approval,' he said, 'President Bush's father was a strong supporter of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This President has said that he is too.

'The ADA, common sense, and common decency cry out to change a policy that sentences people with disabilities to needless isolation.'

The Medicare Rights Center's study, "Forcing Isolation: Medicare 'In the Home' Coverage Standard for Wheelchairs," is available in PDF format. To download, click on:
(If you do not have the free PDF reader installed on your computer, download it here.)