Medicare overpays for wheelchairs

The Medicare program is overspending on wheelchairs by a vast amount, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Medicare does not buy wheelchairs for enrollees outright. Instead, it pays rental fees for up to 13 months, at which point the wheelchair belongs to its user. It spent $188 million on wheel chair rentals in 2009, notes the Sun-Sentinel.

"These are expensive items that some people rent for a few months and then don't necessarily need them," said Laurence Wilson, director of the chronic care policy group for the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But in many instances, Medicare pays far more in rental fees--which range from $490 to $1,750--than it would to simply purchase the wheelchair outright.

In one instance, the Sun-Sentinel reported that Medicare paid $800 in rental fees for a lightweight wheelchair that could be purchased for as little as $99.

Among the reasons for the gap is the fact that payments are based on the average amount suppliers charged Medicare in the mid-1980s, plus inflation. That does not take into account changes in technology and manufacturing processes that can dramatically drive down product costs.

"Medicare doesn't always get the best prices for some of the equipment it buys," Wilson told the Sun-Sentinel. "We certainly recognize that a lot of these prices need to be brought in line with the market."

For more:
- read the South Florida Sun-Sentinel article
- read the HealthNewsDigest article on wheelchair rentals