The Hoops We Jumped Through to Get My Mom a New Wheelchair

I wanted to check out the reviews for a potential DME company to go through to get Mom’s new wheelchair covered by Medicare. I google them and quickly see these disconcerting (and quite honestly, sad) comments displayed:

This company should be shut down. How they can continue to run and rip off ill patients is beyond me. I’ve never dealt with such incompetence in my life. They do not bill insurance correctly, they will charge you for items insurance has . . .”

“Terrible company to work with. Their billing is often months behind, with several months lumped on one statement, old bills from many months before, etc. (which they blame on the insurance co.; wrong! Insurance pays promptly). Every time …”

This company is grossly inept. My doctor submitted a prescription for a knee scooter on December 6. By December 28, I gave up and just paid out of pocket for one on amazon to be delivered the next day. They do not follow up with you and …”

TERRIBLE Experience! They will rip you off, check out their BBB. Use anyone but this company.”

Good gravy! Is this a joke?

Obviously there is no way we would want to go through this company to get Mom’s new wheelchair, right? Back to square one, again.

It all started two months ago

We took Mom to see her general practitioner to check-in about a lot of symptoms Mom was having and how much her MS had progressed this year. I asked her doctor about the process for getting Mom a new wheelchair.

Her current manual wheelchair was almost 10 years old, pieces broken off, and it no longer supported her like we need it to. She has essentially no strength or control left in any part of her body, completely disabled, her tone is somewhat hunched and her legs short and full of tremors. We wanted a chair for her that tilted backwards, had leg and foot rests that could move up and down, and that came with a head rest to support more of her upper body.

Her doctor said “wheelchair paperwork” is extensive and oftentimes Medicare drags their heels, but she would get the process started and we could see what happens.

Fast forward a couple weeks

I check in with Mom’s home health agency to see if the paperwork had been filed and if an order was out for the wheelchair. Indeed it was, and I was given the name of the company that had received the order to fulfill a wheelchair for Mom. Yay!

Fast forward another couple of weeks

I finally get a call from this medical equipment company which had received the order. We had discussed at length with Mom’s doctor that a basic manual wheelchair isn’t going to work because Mom doesn’t have the core strength to hold herself (and her neck and head) up like she needs to when sitting in a basic wheelchair. We really wanted something that tilted backwards and offered more head and leg support as well.

None of this made it through the order to the medical equipment company. They called to ask Mom’s height and weight so they knew what size chair to get her. “Awesome, finally!” I was thinking, and then I thought to ask, “We are looking for a specialty sort of chair, that is what we had discussed with the doctor, can we walk through what that might look like for my mother?”

Long pause.

“Oh yeah,” the woman I was speaking with replied. “I couldn’t really read the entire order from your Mom’s doctor, we only do basic manual wheelchairs.”

I explained the situation and how Mom was medically complex and completely disabled and required something a little more advanced in the way of wheelchairs. “Do you have anything next level that we can see if Medicare will cover?” I asked.

“Sorry, we only do basic chairs. Should I put a hold on this paperwork for now?”

I confirmed that she should, and then asked if she knew any companies in the area that did do more specialized wheelchairs and whom had the bid from Medicare. Big surprise, she had no idea.

Back to square one… again.

Somewhat flustered, I reach out to a relative who works in another state but for a medical equipment company. “Help!” I texted him. “I need to get Mom a new specialty wheelchair but the company that received the doctor’s order can’t fulfill it. Can you help me find a company that can?”

Thankfully he is able to access a database that shows which DME companies in what regions received the bid for specific equipment. He gives me the names of two in our area that are supposed to be able to fulfill specialty wheelchair orders.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” I thought.

Think again. In looking up the reviews for these two companies online, it became glaringly evident that not only would we probably not actually be able to get the wheelchair within even a couple months, but that communication with the companies regarding maintenance and billing was lacking to say the least, and patients seemed to be taken advantage of.

If you know one thing as a caregiver to a medically complex person, some things are simply not worth the time. We could waste six-plus weeks trying to get Medicare to cover Mom’s new wheelchair with these disreputable companies, or we could bite the bullet and use funds we had saved to get her new wheelchair ourselves. So that’s what we did. And guess where we ordered it from?

Amazon! Within a couple weeks the new chair arrived, we assembled it quickly, and it has significantly improved how we get Mom out of her bed each day as well as her comfort level when she does spend time in her chair.

I realize we don’t have a contract with a company that can come fix Mom’s chair if it breaks, but we’re lucky enough to have family members who can tackle those types of issues (former repairmen, engineer, etc.).

Final thoughts

So many parts of this story reveal significant problems with the healthcare system. It seems those who need the most help have to jump through the most hoops to get it. We are so lucky to have had $600 saved up to purchase a new chair for Mom, but what if we couldn’t afford the equipment she needed? Would we be one of the people who had to endure the stress and sheer time-waste of working with an equipment company that seems to put the patient’s needs last?

When I mention this grueling process we went through to Mom’s doctor or her case manager or home health nurse, their nods and shrugs reveal that this is no surprise to anyone in these fields of care. In fact, it would be a surprise if getting a new wheelchair for Mom had actually gone smoother and things had worked out the way patients so foolishly think they will. Ironic, eh?

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Thinkstock photo by Thomas Soeliner.

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