Today at The Mary Wade Home in New Haven, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and health care advocates called for a crackdown on the aggressive and misleading tactics used by the power mobility device (PMD) industry to market motorized wheelchairs and scooters to seniors, and detailed how such tactics drive up costs for consumers in the Medicare program. Blumenthal also called for a crackdown on the pressure that PMD suppliers put on doctors to prescribe their products and the difficulties patients face in receiving refunds when they don't receive reimbursement from Medicare.
Last month, Blumenthal attended a Senate Aging Committee hearing that examined the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' efforts to combat fraudulent payments for power mobility devices. In the coming weeks, he will send letters to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asking both agencies to investigate oversight of the PMD industry's advertising practices and the fraud recovery efforts underway.
Blumenthal said, "The federal government must redouble its efforts to crack down on the pervasive Medicare fraud, waste, and abuse associated with expensive power mobility devices, but we need to do more to address the root cause of this problem. Aggressive advertisements directed at seniors, which intentionally misrepresent the devices' risks versus benefits and the Medicare coverage criteria, need to be stopped. These misleading ads elevate seniors' expectations about the use of power wheelchairs and scooters and convince them that they need such devices even though doctors say a different course of treatment may be more medically appropriate. I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Kohl, Senator Corker and others in the Senate to hold power mobility device suppliers accountable. Cracking down on motorized wheelchair fraud and abuse is essential to patients and taxpayers."
PMDs account for approximately $606 million in annual Medicare spending. Yet, last year, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) found that 80 percent of claims for PMDs did not meet Medicare criteria and should not have been paid, resulting in a loss of $492 million dollars to the program during the time frame investigated. The HHS-OIG also found that 61 percent of Medicare claims did not meet medical necessity guidelines and lacked proper documentation.
As Medicare spending on PMDs has drastically risen over the past decade, direct-to-consumer advertising for these devices on television, in newspapers, and online has become more prevalent nationwide. In these ads, PMD suppliers tout the benefits of "improved mobility" and how Medicare pays for the devices. These ads also portray improper use of PMDs outside the home and fail to include any mention of the health and safety risks that could come with using these devices.