Cheaper walkers, wheelchairs on their way

Medicare drops reimbursement prices on loads of medical devices on Monday.

For years, Medicare -- the public health insurance program for seniors -- has paid three or four times the market rate for things like wheelchairs, walkers and even diabetes test strips.

Until now, Medicare paid about $78 for a box of 100 those test strips. Starting today, the government won’t pay more than about $25.

“That is tremendous savings both for the taxpayers and the beneficiaries themselves,” says Medicare Director Jonathan Blum

The lower price for medical equipment is the result of a new competitive bidding process that reflects market prices. Medicare says the change could save taxpayers more than $40 billion over the next decade. Those billions will come out of the pockets of home medical equipment companies like Ashley Plauche’s in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“I think this is a very chaotic time for our industry and it’s hard to predict where it will go,” she says.

She says her family business Lambert’s Health Care will make about 45 percent less than it did last week selling the same items. Plauche says many home healthcare companies could go out of business. 

Medicare says its main objective is to stop paying three or four times the going rate for items like oxygen tanks and scooters.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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