Insurers put brakes on fast approvals for power wheelchairs

Insurers put brakes on fast approvals for power wheelchairs

philly.com | September 27, 2011 | By Stacey Burling

Samantha Lorey, 27, would be a mere 4-foot-5 if she could stand. She weighs just 70 pounds. She can move her hands a little to maneuver her costly new wheelchair, but if her arms fall in her lap, she can’t pick them up. She can’t move her legs at all.

Lorey’s problems stem from spinal muscular atrophy, a neuromuscular disease that eventually will kill her. Diagnosed as an infant, she was not expected to live past 2.

Instead, she has lived long enough to need three wheelchairs – which she suspects may not please her insurance company.

“People who would be dead are living longer, so insurance companies are having to put out more money,” she said in a soft, watery voice.

It took months, and three appeals of her insurer’s denials, to get the wheelchair she now uses in her family’s small home in Gibbsboro, Camden County.

People who evaluate and fit patients for wheelchairs say cases like hers have become more common in recent months. They say many requests for the kind of chairs that patients like Lorey use – expensive, motorized units with multiple custom features – are being denied because insurers and Medicare officials are worried about high costs and fraud. Doctors, physical therapists, and patients must appeal the decision, or else the patients give up and accept lesser chairs.

“It’s gotten to the point where words are not enough to convince the medical directors” of insurers, said assistive technology professional Robert Townsend of Jeff Quip, a Boothwyn company that supplies complex chairs.

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