Saturday, July 11, 2009

Proposed change to Ohio's budget bill could threaten nursing home patients' access to complex wheelchairs

Those are the complex wheelchairs that are custom-made for patients such as paraplegics or those with multiple sclerosis who have moderate or severe physical challenges that can’t be met by standard wheelchairs. Industry members hear they could lose a direct reimbursement from Medicaid, see that amount cut and then diverted through nursing homes where many of their customers live.

Carol Gilligan, president of Health Aid of Ohio in Cleveland, spent the last two days in Columbus trying to find out about the behind-closed-doors addition to Ohio’s budget bill. Health Aid specializes in customizing, assembling and delivering the wheelchairs – a $15 million-a-year industry in Ohio, Gilligan said.

Under the proposed change, nursing homes would receive the Medicaid payments in a convoluted fee transaction with the state, Gilligan said. The wheelchairs would belong to the nursing homes, not the patients, she said. So if a patient left a nursing home, the wheelchair would stay behind.

Bundling these services for nursing home residents increases the expenses of the homes, enabling the state to qualify for more Medicaid dollars, Johnny Miller, homecare manager of Miller’s Sales & Rentals of Akron, told legislators during testimony on Tuesday.

Gilligan and others fear the change would make it next to impossible for nursing homes to afford the complex wheelchairs, which can range from $3,000 to $15,000.

What’s more, the change would devastate businesses in the industry. Gilligan said she would lay off 20 workers and Miller testified he would cut 25 to 35 of his 100 employees.


Higher quality providers could be put out of business, legislators note, since the services would be bid on cost and failure to provide wheelchairs will leave people bedridden, resulting in costly medical complications.

Not to mention robbing them of any quality of life since people would have to leave their wheelchairs behind "if a patient changed providers or moved to PASSPORT or assisted living, their wheelchair would not move with them because it would belong to the nursing home.”

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