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Medicare Delay In Providing A Wheelchair Confines Disabled New Jersey Man To Bed For Weeks

IRVINGTON, N.J., Jan. 9, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- An Irvington, N.J., man has been confined to a bed in a tiny, efficiency apartment for more than a month while waiting for Medicare to provide a suitable wheelchair. A local medical equipment provider, who would like to help Leonce Pierre-Lewis, calls the situation "deplorable," said the American Association for Homecare.

Herb Paserman, of Jerry's Drug and Surgical in Bayonne, N.J., said that the wheelchair procurement process has been a "nightmare" for his former client.

"This has been very difficult," said Pierre-Lewis. "I have fallen several times. If I try to use the old, broken wheelchair I keep slipping off. This is very bad for me."

Paserman said that because of a Medicare bidding program, he can no longer provide equipment for Pierre-Lewis. The new process has caused delays in Pierre-Lewis receiving the right wheelchair, a situation that many Medicare patients have faced trying to fill prescriptions for critical home medical equipment.

"The facts about this helpless human being's experience are a testament to how far our nation has fallen from its promise of hope and dignity for the disabled," said Paserman, a rehabilitation specialist.

Paserman said that a few years ago Pierre-Lewis fell down a staircase while installing an air conditioner and has been disabled with spinal, hip, and leg injuries. He was hospitalized and then sent to a long-term care facility for several years.

"When I met him, he desperately needed a wheelchair that would free him from his bed imprisonment," said Paserman. "After months of work, I finally got him a custom model that freed him to travel through the facility. Life was looking better and he prepared to be discharged to a small apartment. This decision proved to be the beginning of his nightmare."

Paserman said that Pierre-Lewis' room in an Irvington apartment building has no furniture, not even a meal table—just a hospital bed, commode, TV, and phone. Despite his limited mobility, Pierre-Lewis was ruled ineligible for a Medicaid waiver program that would have provided modest furniture and other necessities. But things really took a turn for the worst when his wheelchair broke down.

"The small welds that held the arm supports had ruptured from years of heavy use," Paserman said. "Now he could not grab onto the arms to safely transfer from the bed to the chair. Our technician made six service calls at no charge, trying to fix the problem with no success. Not even the new factory parts we ordered could render the chair safe. Its time was up."

But, Paserman said, he and Pierre-Lewis hoped that since he had been discharged from the facility, he would be eligible to get a wheelchair from Medicare. Under the agency's bidding program, only suppliers that win bids can service Medicare patients in their area. Since Paserman's company hadn't won the wheelchair bid, he couldn't provide a new chair.

Pierre-Lewis began contacting bid-winning suppliers serving Irvington. But, there were delays due to paperwork snafus involving medical notes required from Pierre-Lewis' doctor.

Finally, over the course of three weeks, Pierre-Lewis received wheelchairs from first one and then another bid-winning supplier, but each time the chairs were unsafe for him. He weighs over 300 pounds and needs a chair that can accommodate his weight. Both chairs had the "wrong dimensions," said Paserman, and he couldn't use them safely.  Now, Pierre-Lewis has been told that it will be several months before a supplier can provide a wheelchair that fits his needs.

"Thanks to a visiting health aide, he is not starving, but he hasn't moved six feet from his bed," Paserman said. "What's so frustrating is that before the bidding program, patients could quickly receive the equipment they needed. Leonce would have had that new wheelchair the same day. I would have visited the doctor's office, pressed them to provide the necessary documents, and we would have provided the proper chair for his weight. He wouldn't be suffering like this."

Consumer advocates, home medical equipment suppliers, and economists are concerned that senior citizens and people living with disabilities are not receiving critical medical equipment, such as hospital beds, wheelchairs, oxygen, and diabetic testing supplies because of Medicare's badly flawed bidding program.

Since the program was implemented in 2011, the American Association for Homecare (AAHomecare) has received reports from more than 2,600 Medicare patients who have had difficulty finding local equipment and service suppliers, suffered through delays in obtaining equipment, or were receiving a lower level of service than they needed.

Tom Ryan, president of AAHomecare, said the Medicare bidding program is jeopardizing the health and quality of life of patients.

"AAHomecare is working with CMS and Congress to make improvements in the program so that patients, such as Pierre-Lewis, can receive the medical equipment and services prescribed by their doctors," Ryan said. "These are some of the most vulnerable people in America."

The American Association for Homecare represents providers of home medical or durable medical equipment and services who serve the needs of millions of Americans who require prescribed oxygen therapy, wheelchairs, enteral feeding, and other medical equipment, services, and supplies at home. Visit www.aahomecare.org.

SOURCE American Association for Homecare

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