When it comes to government waste, fraud and abuse, it’s hard to imagine a more irritating story than the one in last Friday’s Gazette about all those motorized scooters and wheelchairs that seniors and others with mobility problems are buying, it seems, not because they need them so much as Medicare will pay for them.
According to government inspectors cited in the Associated Press report, Medicare is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on these devices every year, and up to 80 percent of them aren’t medically necessary: The people could easily use a cane, walker or regular wheelchair.
The problem is their doctors: They’re all too willing to give in to patients who’ve been convinced by the ads on TV that they can’t get around without one, when this is not really the case. After all, fighting with patients takes time — something in short supply with busy doctors — and a patient who’s denied by one doc might simply shop for another to get what he or she is after. It’s the same mentality that encourages docs to prescribe medications for patients who don’t need them, but who’ve seen ads for them and are convinced that they do.
According to AP’s story, the two largest manufacturers of so-called mobility scooters spent close to $200 million last year, hawking them on TV, radio and in print media, and their ads often point out that Medicare or other insurance will cover their cost. In February, federal Health and Human Services agents raided one of the biggest manufacturers, seizing records they believe will show that doctors are being pressured into overprescribing the vehicles.
The companies are just businesses trying to increase sales; but doctors, of all people, should know better than to give in to someone whose condition might actually improve if they were forced to get some exercise.
The feds are right to launch a crackdown, but they need to focus on doctors as well as the manufacturers.