• "Free" Wheelchairs

      Medicare is going broke, but almost no one wants to cut any of it.

      When Congressman Paul Ryan proposed tiny cuts, he was attacked for wanting to "throw granny off a cliff."

      In my Fox Business show on "Government Healthcare Gone Wrong," I reported how tax money is generously given to people who buy power wheelchairs. Commercials say you can get them at "little or no cost to you!" It's true. And about 170,000 people did last year!

      But of course there is a cost, and taxpayers pick up the tab--about $700 Million last year.

      Not all of them really needed a $3000 power wheel chair. Fraud and overspending has been a problem for the past decade. According to the US Inspector General, more than half of people who got the power chairs in 2007 never proved a need for them. Meanwhile, elderly people who might benefit from power scooters, which might be a better option for them, often don't get them, because Medicare pays a smaller percentage of their cost.

      We featured power scooters in our segment because they cost the government a third of what power chairs do. Is it a better choice than a power chair? Probably for some. The point is that when government pays 100% for expensive health care, and a panel of bureaucrats decides which devices qualify and which don't, money is wasted.

      After my show, I got lots of emails complaining about the segment. They say that what my guests and I said "bordered on slander." Based on the nearly identical wording of the messages, it appears to be an organized campaign from a group called the National Registry of Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers. One occupational therapist wrote:

      "As a clinician specializing in seating and wheeled mobility, my livelihood is not based on what device I prescribe. To suggest that my clinical decisions are driven by anything other than the medical and functional needs of a consumer or patient is completely false and offensive."

      I hope that's true. But I read stories like this or this, about people who get "free" chairs they can't use.

      NRRTS also accused us of inaccurately depicting the cost of scooters:

      "[Jennifer] Kehres stated that $1,000 was the price point for scooters, but when [NRRTS' Simon] Margolis accessed Amigo's website, he found scooters in the range of $1,394 to $3,124. Kehres also did not mention that the seat elevator mechanism demonstrated by [Jean] Csaposs costs an additional $495, and is not covered by Medicare."

      On the show, we said that Medicare pays $1,000 for each scooter (as opposed to $3000 for power chairs), which leaves the customer to pay approximately $1,500. The fact that special modifications like a $495 seat lift are not covered by Medicare on scooters, but are on power chairs, is one more example of how government squanders money. People should have more skin in the game.

      Medicare recipients complain that it's unfair to call Medicare a taxpayer handout, because they paid into the system when they were working, but most don't realize that Medicare is not insurance. It's just another government program, and the most wasteful one. Today many elderly people collect three times what they paid into Medicare.

      This is unsustainable.

      Health Care
      Government Spending