Written by Katie Lynch-Morin for mlive.com and The Saginaw News on April 3, 2013
BRIDGEPORT, MI — Less than two months after its Texas headquarters were raided, The Scooter Store could be closing its doors for good.
According to recent reports from CBS News and My San Antonio, The Scooter Store has informed employees that it soon could close its doors. The Scooter Store allegedly overcharged Medicare by more than $100 million, and sold beneficiaries expensive power wheelchairs that they did not want, need, and/or could not use, according to the Department of Justice.
Closure of The Scooter Store could be welcome news to Bridgeport-based Amigo Mobility, which manufactures mobility scooters for people with mobility issues. Amigo’s mobility scooters are only partially covered while larger, more expensive models of power wheelchairs — sometimes costing thousands of dollars more — from places like The Scooter Store are covered in full.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20 the Texas-based Scooter Store was raided by the FBI, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Texas Attorney General’s office.
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, according to a study from the Office of the Inspector General.
While medically-funded mobility scooters only represent a small part of Amigo’s business, as the company has diversified into serving shopping centers, amusement parks and other areas, officials at the business say they receive many calls and emails from people who thought they were receiving a Medicare-funded Amigo only to be disappointed with a much larger four-wheeled, power wheelchair from another company.
The Scooter Store in 2007 was fined $4 million and agreed to give up more than $13 million in pending Medicare claims for fraudulently billing the government and private health care insurers for power wheelchairs.
According to Medicare coverage guidelines, motorized wheelchairs, which are usually operated by a small joystick, 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.
Medicare guidelines say scooters, or power-operated vehicles, should be considered before a power wheelchair is prescribed. They are best suited for people who have mobility limitations but require help in order to participate in activities of daily living.
Scooters or power-operated vehicles require the driver to steer with both arms and have seats that swivel 360-degrees to allow people access to sinks, counters and other areas.
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.