By Markian Hawryluk: For Complete Post, Click Here…
Robin Bolduc isn’t the type of person who takes “no” for an answer — particularly when it comes to fixing her husband’s wheelchair.
Her husband, Bruce Goguen, 69, is paralyzed from multiple sclerosis. And without his chair, he would be stuck in bed, at risk of developing pneumonia or pressure sores that could lead to sepsis and death.
When components of the chair wear out or break down, the road to repair is littered with obstacles. Recently, the Broomfield, Colorado, residents had to replace a button that Goguen presses with his head to control his wheelchair. They considered going through his wheelchair supplier for the repairs.
“If we did that, he would literally be in bed for months,” said Bolduc, who, along with her husband, is a member of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, an advocacy group. “There’s a quality-of-life issue — he could be lying in bed staring at the ceiling. He has no movement without his wheelchair.”
But, instead, Bolduc tracked down the manufacturer, ordered several buttons online for $20 each, and discovered that replacing the part herself was simple.
“It’s a plug,” she explained. “It’s like charging your cellphone.”
The multibillion-dollar power-wheelchair market is dominated by two national suppliers, Numotion and National Seating and Mobility. Both are owned by private equity firms that seek to increase profits and cut spending. One way they do that is by limiting what they spend on technicians and repairs, which, when combined with insurance and regulatory obstacles, frustrates wheelchair users seeking timely fixes.
The $70 billion durable medical equipment market has been an attractive target for private equity investment because of the aging U.S. population, the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions, and a growing preference for older adults to be treated at home, according to the investment banking firm Provident Healthcare Partners. Medicare’s use of competitive bidding favors large companies that can achieve economies of scale in manufacturing and administrative costs, often at the price of quality and customer service.
Regulations set by Medicare and adopted by most Medicaid and commercial health plans have led to lower-quality products, no coverage for preventive maintenance, and enough red tape to bring wheelchairs to a halt.