PHILADELPHIA – Obtaining equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, and life-saving oxygen systems has gotten a lot more difficult for Medicare beneficiaries in southeastern Pennsylvania. Officials at the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Suppliers (PAMS) made the point abundantly clear during a packed press conference last week.
“It spilled out onto the sidewalk on Market street in downtown Philly,” says John Shirvinsky, executive director, PAMS. “We were in front of both Liberty Resources offices and the Liberty Wheels retail operation.”
Presenters told members of the press, patients, and activists in attendance that Philadelphia residents requiring a wheelchair are no longer able to obtain that equipment from most local providers such as Liberty Wheels. Instead, there are only seven wheelchair providers within 50 miles of Philadelphia. Prior to competitive bidding, there were 185, and only one located within Philadelphia city limits.
“This is a terrible situation for seniors and the disabled,” says Alan Holdsworth, disability rights activist and wheelchair user. “Buying and repairing durable medical equipment like wheelchairs is a local activity. People, especially people with physical disabilities and the elderly, look to local providers to take care of their equipment needs…This system makes no sense for the Philadelphia area. Medicare has awarded one contract to a wheelchair provider located within Philadelphia city limits, and six contracts to firms in Florida and Texas.”
“This program will now require Philadelphia-area Medicare beneficiaries to travel about 350 miles on average to visit a contracted provider unless Congress acts to ensure more-patient-friendly options,” said Shirvinsky in remarks made at the press conference. “As providers of durable medical equipment, one of our primary missions is to provide quality health care in the home environment. This results in tremendous savings to overall Medicare and Medicaid spending because it allows us to treat people with serious health conditions in their own homes rather than in higher cost settings such as hospitals or nursing homes.”