Be a smart consumer when it comes to buying wheelchairs, ramps, and stair lifts. That means paying the lowest possible price for the best possible equipment. Doctors don’t necessarily know the best and latest equipment, so here are some tips:
- Ask for a referral to an occupational or physical therapist (OT or PT) and for the names of reputable local vendors, preferably with CRTS staff (certified rehab technology supplier).
- Shop at a medical equipment provider, sometimes called a rehabilitation technology or assistive technology supplier.
- Ask if the vendor participates in Medicare or Medicaid if you are a beneficiary.
- Be sure the vendor is accredited by RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America.
Paying for it
Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans cover prescribed wheelchairs, ramps and lifts to some extent. Be prepared to face rejection the first time you submit a claim. But keep trying; insurers respond to persistence. Here’s how to bolster your case:
- Check insurance coverage and restrictions, including required paperwork, such as a doctor’s prescription and pre-approval.
- Organize the information required for reimbursement, such as the nature and onset of your disability, employment history, family gross income and monthly expenses.
- Prepare a justification statement if required. Tell your health-care professional to ask the Society for a CD titled Appeal Letters for Insurance. This disc contains model letters that meet standard requirements for insurance claims.
- Check Medicare coverage. You can maximize your benefits by using a medical supplier (vendor) who agrees to accept the Medicare-approved amount as payment in full. You generally pay your 20% co-pay and any remaining Medicare Part B deductible. Non-participating suppliers do not have to accept assignment. Their charges may be higher and you will also have to wait for Medicare to reimburse you.
- For Medicaid, check coverage with your state Medicaid office. Find the number in the State Government section of your phone directory, probably under Health Services or Health and Human Services (names vary by state). Or call your Society chapter.
- Check your vendor’s return policy and your insurance claims appeal process. Keep meticulous records. Save all letters and notes of phone conversations. If it comes to it, follow the appeals process, and complete all the steps on time.
To help defray costs, ask if a local service organization, school carpentry class or carpenter’s union would build your ramp as a service project. Staff at the Society chapter nearest you may know of similar projects. Call your chapter first!
The Minnesota Ramp Project offers a modular design for ramps or low steps that can be built either on or off your site. The comprehensive how-to plan comes with tips on using volunteer builders or finding financing. It can be downloaded free.
Buying used equipment
Secondhand equipment can cost half the original price. It can also be the best way to acquire backups or special-use wheels. Secondhand may even be a smart choice for a primary chair—if you don’t meet your insurance plan’s criteria but need the help that wheels provide.
- Start your search through a good medical equipment vendor.
- See if your chapter newsletter has any classified ads for used items.
- Check the classified ads of publications for people with disabilities.
- Look for online offers at craigslist or eBay.
- Get the word out—ask people if they know of any used equipment for sale.
Give used equipment a thorough check-up. If you buy used equipment from a private party, ask a medical equipment vendor check it out—just as you’d take a used car you’re considering to a reliable mechanic. Ask the vendor if it is willing to repair the equipment should you need that.
Check with a physical or occupational therapist who can measure used equipment to ensure it fits you. An experienced therapist can also help you pick the less problematic of two compromise choices.
Other sources of funding
- If mobility will help you find or keep paid employment, you may be eligible for a grant from your state’s vocational rehabilitation agency.
- Call your Society chapter and ask for referrals to foundations or agencies, such as Easter Seals.
- You might also consider a loan tailored for people with disabilities. The Digital Federal Credit Union offers special Mobility Vehicle and Access loans to members of the American Association for People with Disabilities.
Tax credit help
You should be able to deduct out-of-pocket costs for medical necessities from your federal taxes. To support these deductions in an IRS audit, get a letter from your prescribing doctor, and keep a copy of your prescription in your file.