Both of us have spent a lot of our lives in wheelchairs. However not simply any wheelchairs. Ours are outfitted with energy seat elevation and standing applied sciences individually configured to fulfill our wants.
On the push of a button, our wheelchairs can elevate us to eye stage with a nondisabled individual or place us in a “standing” posture. We are able to full on a regular basis duties like going to the lavatory or stocking kitchen cupboards which might be almost not possible for many who spend all or almost all their time in wheelchairs with out these capabilities.
Tens of millions of our friends don’t have entry to this gear. Medicare — the first well being insurer for older adults in addition to for many individuals with spinal cord accidents, muscular dystrophy, ALS, and different long-term disabilities — doesn’t cowl wheelchairs outfitted with these applied sciences.
That’s short-sighted, provided that these applied sciences can yield financial savings by serving to folks keep away from pricey well being problems. Extra importantly, Medicare’s coverage misses the chance to enhance the lives of Individuals with mobility disabilities. These units allow folks like us to take pleasure in more healthy lives with dignity and independence.
Over the previous 25 years, seat elevation and standing techniques for energy wheelchairs have revolutionized life for folks with disabilities. With a carry attachment, a person can increase their seat to work at a desk or prepare dinner. Standing expertise has invaluable well being advantages, like selling good circulation to keep away from blood clots and mattress sores and decreasing the danger of osteoporosis.
To make certain, this expertise comes at a value. Advanced energy wheelchairs with seat elevation and standing help capabilities can price $10,000 or extra.
Many individuals can’t afford that out of pocket. And Medicare has lengthy declined to cowl seat elevation and standing techniques on the grounds that they’re “not primarily medical in nature.”
That’s a doubtful declare. Scientific analysis reveals that these applied sciences tangibly enhance folks’s well being and avert critical and costly accidents. Our lives are a testomony to that analysis.
One in all us (P.A.L.) grew to become a wheelchair consumer after a spinal cord injury in 1993. It was devastating to lose the power to carry out easy duties like loading the washer or grabbing a snack from the fridge. Utilizing the stovetop grew to become a harmful ordeal, and I’ve the burns to show it.
Fortunately, my wheelchair is now outfitted with seat elevation expertise. I as soon as once more really feel like I’m a productive member of my household — that I can carry my very own load. Along with giving me independence, the expertise has eased my spouse’s caregiving function. She now not has to assist me switch out of my wheelchair 5 to eight occasions a day.
The opposite (J.M.) has lived with muscular dystrophy for many years, which in the end robbed him of the power to stroll.
In 1997, I discovered that being caught with utilizing an everyday wheelchair raised my threat of growing pores and skin ulcers, urinary tract infections, diabetes, and renal failure. My physician additionally warned that I may undergo “contractures” — situations the place the tendons and muscle tissue within the legs stiffen up, leading to painful deformities.
Addressing contractures can require barbaric procedures, like fully severing a stiffened tendon or muscle. Fortunately, with the assistance of an influence wheelchair with seat elevation expertise, I used to be in a position to keep away from contractures and the painful therapies they entail.
I even have expertise with standing expertise. In 2017, I used to be recognized with bone loss attributable to vitamin D deficiency. An influence wheelchair with a standing function has helped decrease fracture threat by eliminating transfers and strengthening my bones. Because of the standing body, my bone loss is noticeably bettering.
Given our experiences, how may anybody say that seat elevation and standing applied sciences in energy wheelchairs will not be “medically essential”?
Seat elevation and standing techniques don’t simply enhance wheelchair customers’ bodily well being, however their psychological well being, too. For a wheelchair consumer, with the ability to have a dialog with a pal, cherished one, or stranger on the identical visible aircraft is a welcome change that may make us really feel much less socially remoted and fewer like individuals are wanting down on us — figuratively and actually.
Medicare ought to rethink its insurance policies, and there’s an indication it would accomplish that. The Facilities for Medicare and Medicaid Providers have requested for public remark on whether or not to cowl energy seat elevation expertise (the deadline for submitting feedback is Sept. 14). However the company has remained silent about when and the way it will contemplate masking energy standing techniques.
It’s unconscionable, and inequitable, that solely privileged people can afford these life-changing applied sciences whereas Individuals of extra modest means should undergo eminently preventable bodily and psychological well being issues by utilizing outmoded wheelchairs.
It’s previous time for Medicare to acknowledge that these techniques are primarily medical in nature — and to supply protection for the beneficiaries who want them.
Paul Amadeus Lane is the accessibility specialist and tech entry lead for United Spinal Affiliation’s Tech Entry Initiative. Jim Meade is a incapacity advocate. Each are affiliated with the ITEM Coalition, a corporation that raises consciousness of and builds help for insurance policies to boost entry to assistive units, applied sciences, and associated companies for folks with disabilities and persistent situations.