Donna Adell of Ottawa, Kan., is confused. The power wheelchair her husband Charles uses was supposed to make his life easier after a hip-replacement surgery five years ago cut him off from an active life. Medicare paid for the chair, Donna Adell said.
By FINN BULLERS
Special to The Star
But then Medicare refused to service the chair and provide replacement batteries because officials said the chair was to be used only inside the home.
The whole purpose for the power chair was to help (Charles) become more independent to get outside, to visit friends and neighbors nearby, and to go up to our mailbox, Donna Adell said.
In mid-May, Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, joined forces in a bipartisan effort to improve the life of Charles Adell and tens of thousands of people with disabilities across the country. There are 380,000 Kansans with disabilities, 10 percent of whom use wheelchairs.
The introduction of Senate Bill S. 948 Ensuring Access To Quality Complex Rehabilitation Technology Act of 2013 is designed to create a separate benefit category paid through Medicare for items like power wheelchairs and specialized seating.
The bill eliminates Medicares in-the-home restriction for complex rehab equipment covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. This bill is the Senate companion to House Bill H.R. 942, introduced in March.
The legislation is designed to give people like Charles and me better access to technology that holds the power to transform dark days of exclusion into the white light of inclusion. For years, lawmakers have pushed to get people with disabilities into volunteer jobs in our schools, part-time jobs and even full-time employment that keeps tax revenue swelling public coffers.
At the same time, Medicare says a person in a complex wheelchair cant roll out the door to go to work. Or to attend a childs soccer game. Or to volunteer to help with third-grade Rocket Math at school.
Does that make any sense?
Some 39 representatives already have signed on as co-sponsors, increasing chances the bill will become law.
In my case, better access to a complex power wheelchair gave me a chance to save my right leg. Muscular dystrophy, pressure sores and fluid buildup caused a small wound to grow significantly, become infected and gangrenous and threatened to expose bone.
Doctors wanted to amputate my leg. Instead, a power wheelchair let me elevate the leg by pushing a joystick. The swelling decreased and over many months, the gaping wound healed.
Access to complex rehab technology, saved thousands of taxpayer dollars and my leg. Unfortunately, thousands of Americans like Charles Adell are not so fortunate. We can do better.
Today, disability rights advocates are more committed than ever. We will again be in Washington, D.C., for the annual Roll on Capitol Hill from June 16-19.
We see members of Congress in two camps: those who already have signed on and those who just need more time to see the importance of this legislation.
Today, I have both my legs. I volunteer in my community and at my kids school.
And if theyre good, I treat my daughter Alora, 8, and son Christian, 12, to a fancy hamburger at our favorite neighborhood restaurant. Complex wheelchair users across the country should be so lucky.
Finn Bullers of Prairie Village is a former Kansas City Star reporter who works as an advocate for people with disabilities. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.