Medicare cracks down on wheelchair fraud

WASHINGTON – The number of scooters and powered wheelchairs is on the rise as baby boomers get older. Medicare, which says it’s spending too much on the chairs, is closely watching how people are getting them.

Medicare spent $723 million in 2009 on scooters and powered wheelchairs, the most recent year figures were available.

The agency estimates that at least 60 percent of the claims were paid, even if the paperwork wasn’t done correctly or the recipient didn’t even need the wheelchair.

Medicare’s crackdown will make it harder to get a powered wheelchair in seven states — Florida, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and Texas — as soon as June 1.

Health care professionals tell the Tampa Bay Times that the crackdown won’t address the bigger issue — that the chairs take away any incentive to walk, which can speed up a older person’s decline.

One nurse called the wheelchairs and scooters “motorized couches.”

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