The Jett Foundation Fighting Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Why Are Power Chairs So Expensive?

June 15, 2011

Questions and Answers with Dave Heim, the Wheel Chair Recycler.

This question and answer session with Dave Heim provides his unique insight into power chairs, their costs and what we should do to bring down costs/improve the quality of power chairs. While this applies to families affected by DMD, it should be read by anyone who needs (or has a loved one who needs) a power chair.

Why Are Power Chairs So Expensive?

Not all are, some are very expensive because they are worth it. The problem I see is the low grade imported junk that eats up the funding for power chairs. Ex; The Scooter Store products are like buying a Yugo (would congress or any company settle for “what ever”, in a car, no way). They are costing Medicare hundreds of millions and I heard from a man who also buys from overseas that The Scooter Store is buying the entire power chair for $600-$800 and selling from $6,000-$8,000 along with added “special” seating and arm rests and head rest jack up the cost over ten thousand dollars. Of the 100 plus power chairs that we have scrapped, repaired there is absolutely nothing “special” about them.

How much should power chairs cost?

To understand this, we need to examine the entire process of how Medicare pays. This should be looked at as you would look for a car to purchase. As far as I know, Medicare is their own worst enemy. They have base prices for power chairs, for instants; Medicare has set prices per option, base power chair $8,000 or more, tilt $5,000, recline $5,000 etc. Because many high end quality power chairs like Permobil, Invacare and Quikie cannot sell their base for $8,000, they rely on options to help cover the low set price of a base unit. The problem is many times options are denied there for the bid goes the lowest price. Hence Medicare finds it a painless process. (They take the easy way out.) Many people who come to us where given a cheap chair because it is cheap and where given the choice of take it or leave it.

Is there a way to reform the system?

Maybe Consumer Reports would help. Rate power chairs like you’d rate a toaster. I personally think congress is about the only ear we have. (remember years ago when the congress wasted million of tax dollars and how many countless hours on the use of steroids in major league base ball(priorities?). Or the dude who opened the door of the plane and slid out, hours of media. If I had 20 minutes in front of congress, it would make them listen.
Another alternative that may just happen this summer is this: I chain me and my power chair to the fence at The White House until I get to talk to the president.

Why do power chairs they end up in landfills?

There nothing in place to require companies to reuse, scrap or otherwise. The companies that sell wheelchairs want them scrapped so they can sell more. Again the system is broken. The solution is to set up a fund for the reuse of power chairs and scooter and for each unit charge a disposal fee like car batteries or bottles. Use that funding to help establish wheelchair recycling and reuse all over the country. This country recycles right down to a piece of paper yet every year tens of millions of dollars are scrapped without a second notice.

How many annually?

As many as there are sold go to landfills, and, if we are lucky, some are scrapped as junk.

What could be done differently to make use of them?

The solution is to set up a fund for the reuse of power chairs and scooter and for each unit charge a disposal fee like car batteries or bottles. Use that funding to help establish wheelchair recycling and reuse all over the country.

Why do you think the power chair market is so limited to just the basics – for instance, why can’t we find ways to get folks over sand, through mud and up mountains? No one ever tried. Since my injury in 1995, one of biggest obstacles I see is awareness. If the whole country would read this blog and see the waste there would be a loud noise. If they knew that because no one watches a junkie little power chair cost more than most cars then we would get action, not so much because our right as uses of chairs but the money wasted. Money talks.

Why do you think it takes so for repairs?

Many state funded insurance plans require a prior approval for any repair over $1,000, which could take weeks or months. Many companies will not do such repairs with a guarantee that they will get paid. I personally know of 2 wheelchair companies that had to go bankrupt because they were over $250,000 in the red. With average high end power chairs costing up to $20,000 and up it is easy to rack up serious debt. All of this trickles down to us.

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