Thursday, February 21, 2013

Power Chairs, Scooters Have a Rough Ride Ahead

My 80-year-old mother (81 this Sunday) lives on the first floor of a four-story apartment for seniors in Grove City, Pennsylvania. She has a sister who lives on the fourth floor. Another sister lives with her husband in a nursing home a couple hundred yards away. My mother is pained by severe arthritis.

Nonetheless, I urge her to take the stairs, walk to the nursing home, walk laps around the building, clean her own apartment, and plant tomatoes and flowers on her patio in the summer. When she came to Kentucky to visit for a month last fall, I had her out in the Jefferson Forest and walking through K-Mart. I urged her to keep moving.

I'm not a sadistic son. I'm a loving son who understands muscle atrophy in seniors who sit around too much. That's why I groan when I see those omnipresent ads for The Scooter Store, which promotes mobility but actually contributes to dependence on battery-powered transport.

Now, The Scooter Store is in a serious crisis. Federal agents Wednesday swarmed the New Braunfels, Texas, headquarters. Authorities wouldn't give a reason for the raid, but a source said officials were looking for details of how The Scooter Store bills for its equipment. The Scooter Store recently came under fire for receiving millions in Medicare overpayments from 2009 to 2011.

Earlier this month, the company underwent layoffs after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said reimbursements for power chairs, scooters, and other equipment will be sharply lower starting July 1. "Neither Michael Clark, chief administrative officer, nor spokesman Tim Zipp responded to phone calls."  (http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Feds-raid-Scooter-Store-in-possible-search-of-4295594.php)

About 150 law enforcement officers, including the FBI, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Texas Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit combed The Scooter Store's offices.

"Power-mobility devices are a target in the crackdown on Medicare fraud. Officials have raised concerns that scooters and power chairs are being prescribed to people who don't need them." Last year, an independent auditor found The Scooter Store received between $46.8 million and $87.7 million in Medicare overpayments between 2009 and 2011. (The books must be in disarray if an audit can't pin down an exact number.) The company, however, only has to repay $19.5 million. Back in 2005, the Justice Department alleged in a civil lawsuit that the company defrauded Medicare and Medicaid. The company disputed the allegations but agreed to a settlement.

According to the company's website, "Doug and Susanna Harrison founded The SCOOTER Store as a dream to help people with limited mobility regain freedom and independence. Based on a core ideology, 'Always Do the Right Thing,' The SCOOTER Store has grown from a vision into a highly successful national enterprise with over 2,500 employees."  (http://www.thescooterstore.com/mobility/microsite/09/aboutus.aspx)

Bull milk! The company was a dream to make millions for its founders. Always do the right thing? We shall see in court.

Former employees told CBS News last year that The Scooter Store’s main goal was to boost profits and not help patients.
“Bulldoze (doctors) and get them to get the paperwork done,” former employee Brian Setzer said. (http://houston.cbslocal.com/2013/02/21/federal-agents-raid-the-scooter-store-in-fraud-investigation/) Other employees have said the company harasses doctors to write prescriptions for wheels until they relent and do so.

"Agents instructed IT and direct sales employees to gather their belongings and evacuate immediately, leaving their work spaces untouched. Employees working in billing and collections were kept for FBI questioning.... a CBS News report last month on possible Medicare fraud committed by power wheelchair companies ... The report states that Medicare fraud costs tax payers an estimated $60 billion a year."  (http://www.kens5.com/news/Scooter-Store-raided-employees-told-to-go-home-call-the-FBI-192043121.html)

If I go by TV ad time, Hoveround is probably the greatest competitor. Based on its website boasts, it better be ready for a raid and a crisis. "9 out of 10 Hoveround owners got their electric wheelchair at little or no cost. Medicare paid most of the wheelchair expense for them. Hoveround does all the work for you in getting a mobility scooter!"  (http://www.hoveround.com/home/more-information/?PhoneNumber=8004591068&PageID=1110000133&gclid=CJXh2KKWyLUCFYs7Mgod_RsAuA)

Learn from your competitors' crises. Clean out your closets before someone makes you. Do the right thing, and it should go without saying, that means not cheating the government. (Are you listening, Doug and Suzanna?) Have a crisis communications plan that will help you deal with smoldering crises like this one.

If you ignore this advice, better not tell the warden you want to bring your electric chair from home.

2 comments:

Sean Carter said...

This is some distressing news, powerchairs have really been a boon to my life. I really hope to this passes quickly and they see what damage this could do

Jennie Lanics said...

Plenty of people have problems with movement, and I think it's the best solution for them.
power scooter