By Kelly Buckland
Independent living and the philosophy behind the movement, is to promote a philosophy of independent living, including a philosophy of consumer control, peer support, self-help, self-determination and equal access. We advocate to maximize the leadership, empowerment, independence, and productivity of individuals with disabilities, and the integration and full inclusion of individuals with disabilities into the mainstream of American society.
The National Council on Independent Living is the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities. Our mission is to advance independent living and the rights of those with disabilities. We give a voice to those who may otherwise not be heard. And, at this time, we are pleading for Congress to hear these voices and correct an issue that is deeply impacting our members coast-to-coast.
Home medical equipment providers in rural areas and small communities are facing drastic reductions to the prices that Medicare pays for the products and related services that they provide. For many commonly used items, the reductions can be as much as 50-60% when compared to the rates in effect in 2015. The reductions are being caused by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) decision to apply pricing based on their competitive bidding program for home medical equipment that helps set prices for major metro areas nationwide.
Using these prices for home medical equipment in rural areas may save CMS money in the short term, but at what cost to the individuals who depend on wheelchairs, oxygen, specialized beds, and other products? These products allow people with disabilities and seniors to live at home.
These deep cuts are being acutely felt by home medical equipment businesses in rural areas. Many are struggling to stay open because these rates do not account for the significant extra expenses associated with serving people in rural areas.
Small, rural home medical equipment stores face higher fuel costs and staff time serving people spread over a larger area. These slashed reimbursement rates are forcing them to cut back on the level of service they offer customers, as well as discontinuing particularly unprofitable products, and not taking on new customers. As a result, this important part of the support system for people with disabilities is at risk.
We want all individuals with disabilities to have the opportunity to live in their local communities, and that means those communities need local stores in which people can get the equipment they need. As we see more and more businesses shutting down or no longer running at full capacity due to these new rates, it worries us for the future of people with disabilities who rely on this equipment to maintain their independence. Both the House and Senate passed legislation that would roll back part of these drastic cuts to give policymakers more time to consider the potential impacts these cuts are having on people’s health, but they couldn’t reconcile the differences and send a bill to the President before breaking for a long recess in July. With just a few short weeks remaining in the year, there is little time to waste.
Buckland is executive director of the National Council on Independent Living.