When discussing Medicare wheelchairs, it’s important to note that Medicare itself does not produce medical supplies; it only funds them. The actual suppliers and maintenance providers for devices like power wheelchairs are independent, for-profit companies.
Some are honest businesses that produce safe products to fill medically appropriate prescriptions, but others exist for the express purpose of extracting as much taxpayer money from Medicare as possible, without regard for patients’ needs or decisions.
Medicare Power Wheelchairs Are Overprescribed and a Popular Tool of Fraudsters
Power wheelchairs are, or at least recently were, an ideal cover item for Medicare fraud, because of their many uses and high profit margins. The typical scam works something like this:
- The wheelchair company employs “patient recruiters” to acquire seniors’ Medicare numbers through lies, bribery, or hard-sell tactics
- Once a patient gives their number, the company prescribes them a wheelchair with the help of a dishonest doctor or a doctor’s stolen identity
- The company provides a wheelchair and bills Medicare at an exorbitant markup
This practice dates back to at least the late 1990s and seems to have peaked around the mid-2010s with several high-profile cases, including one that resulted in a $7.5 million settlement, and one in which a conspiring doctor was sentenced to two years in prison.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that all remaining wheelchair providers now have patient best interests at heart.
A Fall from an Unstable Wheelchair Can Seriously Injure a Senior
While many prescribed wheelchairs end up gathering dust in healthy seniors’ garages, others go to patients who genuinely have little to no mobility without them.
Given the priorities of fraudulent wheelchair companies — and even some more legitimate for-profit supply companies — it’s hardly surprising when these products turn out shoddily built and dangerous.
Elevated leg rests without forward stabilizers can cause chairs to topple forward, and wheels that do not lock securely can cause accidents during transfers to and from the chair. A single fall can have devastating consequences for a senior, due to the loss of bone mass that occurs with age.
Wheelchair Fires Cost Lives and Destroy Homes
In Louisiana in 2017, a 12-year-old girl responded to a smoke alarm to find an elderly family member on fire in his wheelchair. She tried putting him out, but by the time emergency services arrived, the man had died of his burns.
This was far from the first incident of a power wheelchair apparently setting a catastrophic fire, due to faulty batteries or wiring. Two years earlier, in Florida, a couple’s home was severely damaged by a blaze believed to be started by power wheelchair. Three years before that, in Colorado, a family sued after a Jazzy power wheelchair led to the father’s fatal burns.
Design Flaws Aren’t the Only Cause of Wheelchair Injuries
Even though Medicare covers regular service for power wheelchairs, many manufacturers and third-party maintenance companies don’t provide the thorough level of attention these devices require to keep functioning safely. Patients whose wheelchairs are not regularly and properly serviced are 10 times more likely to be injured by them, regardless of their original quality.
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one to a malfunctioning wheelchair, the product liability attorneys at The Stoddard Firm can help.