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Seniors too often targeted for Medicare scams

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Aug. 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm with 2 Comments »
August 9, 2011 5:07 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Medicare fraud is a multibillion-dollar problem in this country, but one form it takes is particularly despicable because it preys on one of the greatest fears of the elderly: loss of independence.

Those who are finding it harder to get out and about are all too vulnerable to hucksters promising the latest in electric wheelchair convenience – power chairs with jaunty names like Rascal and Jazzy.

The ubiquitous, cheery commercials on cable stations promise that those power chairs are the ticket to greater mobility and freedom (cue the music and the happy group of riders trekking around town and through the woods). Plus they’re free!

Yes, Medicare probably will foot the entire bill, the ads promise. And the seller will even fill out the forms for you.

Of course it will. Because it’s been getting reimbursed for much more than the actual cost – up to $4,000 for a chair that normally sells for about $1,000. But in many cases the senior citizen doesn’t really qualify for a Medicare-reimbursed chair. They’re only supposed to be paid for if the person is unable to get around with a cane, walker or regular wheelchair.

Often the chair arrives and turns out not to be what the senior really needs. It might be too big to navigate in the house, for instance. But once Medicare pays for one chair, it won’t pay for another.

Government action in recent years – including a 2007 judgment against one power chair company selling in Washington state, Electric Mobility Corp. – is helping reduce the overpayment problem. But many seniors continue to report high-pressure sales tactics; they end up agreeing to order a power chair because it seems like the only way to get the salesperson to leave them alone.

In other cases, consumers report that salespeople lie about Medicare reimbursement; they only find out that payment has been declined after the chair has been shipped. The may be falsely told that the chair will work with an existing car lift, or that a new car lift comes with the chair. Components often break and need expensive repairs.

Consumers should be aware of the problems associated with the power-chair industry. If they truly are candidates for such a device, they should work with their own doctor to obtain Medicare reimbursement – and read the fine print. Regulators need to keep a vigilant eye on this and other schemes targeting vulnerable seniors.

Leave a comment Comments → 2
  1. elderjustice2010 says:

    We appreciate the news tribune’s editorial but a more suitable editorial in these economic times should be on the multi-million dollar fraud cases stemming from elder exploitation in the State of Washington, and namely Pierce County.

    Your headline could well have said; “ELDER EXPLOITATION fraud is a multibillion-dollar problem in this country, but one form it takes is particularly despicable because it preys on one of the greatest fears of the elderly. ”

    In Pierce County seniors experience elder abuse and financial exploitation daily, many severe cases including isolation, mental abuse, fraudulent changing of medical records and prescriptive drugs, fraudulent withdrawal of bank accounts by the power of attorney with the aid of a local Tacoma attorney assisting the power of attorney and various children who profited from the abuse.

    Our APS DSHS system is flawed, incompetent and/or corrupt especially when it dismissed a well known Pierce County case of elder abuse and mental abuse after stating to complainants “they could rule for abuse.” Then after a prominent local Democratic politician visits the supervisor of DSHS and is politically acquitted with management at DSHS, the case is conveniently dismissed. Political? Absolutely.

    Our legal and judicial system from the Attorney General, to APS DSHS, down to Prosecutor’s office has failed our elderly in Pierce County and the State of Washington. When a senior can have over $400,000 stolen and over $700,000 in monies structured and layered a form of money laundering, beneficiaries changed, bank accounts withdrawn, be mentally abused and isolated while APS DSHS and the Prosecutors look the other way, we have a serious issue with taking elder abuse seriously in Tacoma, Pierce County Washington.

    In 2012, Elder Abuse will be made a campaign issue especially when politicians seeking higher office try to obtain senior votes. We hope candidates for Governor, Attorney General and County Prosecutor who in the past have stood in front of bill boards as props against elder abuse can actually account for their actions and inactions, because in one Pierce County case many seeking higher office determined it was more politically savvy to look the other way while an elder parent was abused.

    Some advice for those seeking office; Political courage starts with protecting the elderly and not that of your political friends.

    We encourage the news tribune to report on this wide spread abuse affecting our citizens and the most vulnerable among us.

  2. truthbusterguy says:

    Medicare paid $1800 in rent for a transport chair. After one year of rent the chair is hers. the same chair is sold at rite aid for $99.

    I wrote a letter to Patty Murrey about this and she told me that nothing can be done because the medical equipment lobby is too powerful. She is a coward and afraid to take them on. This is low hanging fruit that could be fixed but our senator refuses.

    A good example of what is wrong in DC. They are all on the take from lobbiest.

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