Medicare-funded Power Wheelchairs Create Headache for Amigo Mobility

Friendly Wheels, Issue 43
September 2011

Featuring Al Thieme, Amigo President & Founder

Amigo Mobility was recently featured in a August 22, 2011 Saginaw News Article. The article, entitled Medicare-funded power wheelchairs create headache for Amigo Mobility, was written by written by Kathryn Lynch-Morin. Read the excerpt below or click here for the full article.

Medicare-funded power wheelchairs create headache for Amigo Mobility

Al Thieme Saginaw News

Al Thieme invented the first Amigo in 1968

Al Thieme manufactures Amigos from the Bridgeport Township business he founded more than 40 years ago.

Amigo Mobility International is caught up in a larger problem involving Medicare.

Each year, Thieme says, hundreds of people call his company after they thought they had purchased a power-operated vehicle or scooter made by Amigo. Instead, they got a four-wheeled, power wheelchair from another company.

The wheelchairs, people complain, are bigger, less comfortable and harder to use. And although the power wheelchairs can cost up to 10 times the price of an Amigo, they are fully paid for by Medicare and supplemental insurance. Amigo International's scooters are partly covered.

A new study released by the Office of the Inspector General shows hundreds of millions of Medicare dollars are wasted each year on medically unnecessary power wheelchairs.

The problem isn't new. Back in the 1990s, suppliers started airing commercials for free or nearly-free power wheelchairs through Medicare. From 1999 to 2003, Medicare payments for power wheelchairs increased 350 percent, to $1.2 billion annually from $259 million.

Medicare and its beneficiaries pay more than $4,000 for standard power wheelchairs. (Amigos sell for an average of about $2,500, but suppliers like Amigo are only reimbursed $935.03 by Medicare.)

According to Medicare coverage guidelines, power wheelchairs should be prescribed as a last resort and are best for people with severe disabilities, as they require only slight motions of the hand to maneuver and have seats locked in place.

Once a person receives a Medicare-funded power wheelchair, they become ineligible for other mobility aids, such as less expensive power-operated vehicles or manual wheelchairs.

That leaves many people trying to sell their power wheelchairs and to pay out of pocket for a scooter they would rather have.

"It's heartbreaking when you hear how frustrated these customers are," Jennifer Thieme Kehres, Amigo's marketing manager said.

Read the complete article here.

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