Fewer than 1 in 7 wheelchairs properly prescribed through Medicare

Share this content:

Only 13% of people who received motorized wheelchairs from Medicare actually qualified for one, said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) at a Senate Finance Committee hearing he held Wednesday. Grassley called for reports on wheelchairs from the General Accounting Office and the Office of the Inspector General.

Audits showed that nearly half of wheelchair recipients should have received a less expensive model, and 11% had paperwork that was not complete enough for auditors to make a judgment.

Medicare spending on powered wheelchairs grew exponentially (350%) from 1999 to 2003 to $459 million and $586 million, while general Medicare grew 23% in the same period. Wheelchairs accounted for between $459 million and $586 million in spending in 2002. Wheelchairs that were improperly covered cost Medicare $178 million in 2001.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Mark McClellan outlined steps to minimize the problem, including establishing rules "to better determine whether a person meets the definition of 'bed- or chair-confined'" to qualify for a wheelchair.