Bidding and wheelchairs: ‘The system is not working’

Industry warnings of access problems due to Round 2 of competitive bidding are becoming a day-to-day reality for power wheelchair users.

Providers report users are facing extended wait times for equipment and little or no options for repairs due to contract suppliers that are out-of-state or who have no experience with wheelchairs.

All of this has left users turning to non-contract suppliers for help, says provider Bernie Hamann.

“Our phones are ringing off the hook,” said Hamann, owner of Rochester, N.H.-based Lakeside Mobility. “I’m not aware of any local suppliers that got contracts, and now people can’t get service. One of the winners told a patient they wouldn’t give them a wheelchair. They said, ‘If you’re not an oxygen patient, we’re not going to supply anything else.’”

The wait time for companies that will provide equipment is around two to three weeks, Hamann said.

Hamann isn’t the only one hearing complaints. People for Quality Care reported July 30 that its hotline has received 1,000 complaints since Round 2 started, including a complaint from a patient in South Carolina who would need to take an ambulance to get a power wheelchair from a provider 160 miles away.

So what are patients to do? Not necessarily rely on out-of-state contract suppliers to hire subcontractors. A lot of the time, these deals just aren’t feasible, says provider Rick Perrotta.

“With the lower reimbursement, you can do everything yourself, efficiently, and still find a way to sustain your business,” said Perrotta, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Network Medical Supply. “If you have to pay a subcontractor, you’re going to be in trouble.”

Non-contract suppliers may be able to help with some things, like repairs, but contract suppliers are still on the hook for replacement parts like batteries, arm pads or brakes. That may be news to them, says provider Bob Miller.

“Most of these bid winners didn’t have a clue what they were signing up for,” said Miller, president and CEO of Hackettstown, N.J.-based Bach’s Home Health Care. “(Contract suppliers) think anyone can do these repairs, but there’s a difference between repairs and replacement.”

Non-contract suppliers contacted by users are often left with only once course of action: Tell them to make their voices heard, says provider Doug Tarchalski.

“I got a call from a gentleman who needed a new scooter battery and the new company had been giving him the runaround for several weeks,” said Tarchalski, president of White Lake, Mich.-based Huron Valley Home Care. “I had him call the hotline. The system is not working for him.”

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