The multibillion-dollar power-wheelchair market is dominated by two national suppliers, Numotion and National Seating and Mobility. Both are owned by private equity firms that seek to increase profits and cut spending. One way they do that is by limiting what they spend on technicians and repairs, which, when combined with insurance and regulatory obstacles, frustrates wheelchair users seeking timely fixes.
The $70 billion durable medical equipment market has been an attractive target for private equity investment because of the aging U.S. population, the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions, and a growing preference for older adults to be treated at home, according to the investment banking firm Provident Healthcare Partners. Medicare’s use of competitive bidding favors large companies that can achieve economies of scale in manufacturing and administrative costs, often at the price of quality and customer service.
Regulations set by Medicare and adopted by most Medicaid and commercial health plans have led to lower-quality products, no coverage for preventive maintenance, and enough red tape to bring wheelchairs to a halt.
Power wheelchair users have long been fighting for the right to repair their wheelchairs themselves or through independent repair shops. Medicare and most insurance companies will replace complex wheelchairs only every five years. The wheelchair suppliers that have contracts with public and private health insurance plans restrict access to parts, tools, and service manuals. They usually keep a limited inventory of parts on hand and wait until health plans approve repair claims before ordering parts.
Some chairs require a software passcode or a physical key for any repairs. Wheelchair users who make fixes themselves may void their warranty or lose out on insurance payments for repairs.
Author(s): Markian Hawryluk
Publication Date: 2 June 2022
Publication Site: Kaiser Health News