Dignity Digest Spotlight on July 1, 2022
Dignity Alliance Massachusetts has endorsed An Act expanding wheelchair warranty protections for consumers with disabilities (S.2567).
Help pass S.2567 into law! See item #2 in the Advocacy section below regarding steps you can take to make your voice heard.
A proposed state law would make it easier to get a broken wheelchair fixed.
Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL), Disability Policy Consortium (DPC) and Disability Law Center (DLC) have worked together on S.2567 to improve warranty protections for wheelchairs. We are asking everyone, especially wheelchair users who have current or past issues with repairing their wheelchairs, to take action and highlight the need for this legislation. The bill is currently in Senate Ways & Means and still needs to pass several more hurdles before the legislative session ends on July 31.
ABOUT THE BILL:
SPONSORS: Representative James O’Day, Senator John Cronin
THE PROBLEM: Durable medical equipment devices are often prone to defects and sudden failure. It is commonplace for consumers to be left stranded or isolated in their homes for weeks, or even months, awaiting repairs, unable to get to work, school, medical appointments, the grocery store, and in some cases to move around their own home.
Our laws must be reformed to strengthen warranty protections for MA residents with disabilities. We need to: 1) level the playing field for consumers, 2) shorten repair wait times, 3) prevent harm to our economy, 4) save taxpayer money that MassHealth currently spends fixing these defective wheelchairs, and 5) ensure that we are all treated with dignity and respect.
THE SOLUTION:The Warranty Protections for Consumers with Disabilities Act. This act draws upon legislation already adopted in other states to ensure stronger warranty protections for consumers with disabilities here in MA. These reforms include:
- Expanding the warranty to cover all wheelchairs for two years;
- Protecting wheelchair users’ right to reasonable repair;
- Reimbursement of costs incurred by consumers as a result of their defective chair;
- Providing loaner chairs while a consumers’ chair is inoperable;
- and more
Passing this bill would protect the health, autonomy, time, and money of consumers with disabilities who rely on wheelchairs every day.
Call your senator today and tell them to ask the Senate Ways and Means committee to prioritize S.2567!
Contact information for legislators
If you have questions about the bill, or want to be more involved or stay up to date on its progress, contact Kay S. of the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) 617-338-6665; email@example.com
June 26, 2022 (updated)
People who use wheelchairs and those who advocate for them are urging state lawmakers to act quickly to pass a bill they say will alleviate chronic delays in getting broken wheelchairs fixed.
It’s a demoralizing problem that leaves many wheelchair users unable to go to work or school while stranded at home for weeks or even months, they said.
“When I need help, from replacing tires to motors, parts have always taken months to replace, not weeks,” Ellen Leigh of Arlington said at a press conference Thursday organized by advocates.
“There has been a problem every single time, no exceptions,” she said.
State Senator John Cronin is one of the sponsors of the bill that would try to speed up repairs by expanding warranty protections and requiring mandatory assessments of broken wheelchairs within three days. At the press conference, which was conducted remotely online and attended by more than 30 wheelchair users, Cronin said many other states have already adopted the measures now proposed in Massachusetts.
“In other parts of the country, there are stronger protections,” he said. “It’s time for Massachusetts to step up.”
Rick Glassman, director of advocacy for the Disability Law Center, helped organize the press conference to drum up support for the bill, which he called an important step needed to improve the lives of wheelchair users
The bill, which was approved in November by a joint legislative committee, is currently before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Advocates say they are hoping for quick passage of the bill before the Legislature adjourns at the end of next month.
The bill is supported by a wide range of advocates. In a letter to legislators, a consortium of 15 organizations, including the Disability Policy Consortium and the Boston Center for Independent Living, voiced strong support for it.
“Our organizations regularly work with people who struggle to obtain repairs in a timely and reasonable fashion, often while isolated at home for extended periods of time,” the consortium wrote.
Delays in repairs leave many wheelchair users “stranded in their homes for days or weeks, and sometimes months at a time, unable to get to work, school, medical appointments, the grocery store, or other places in the community,” the consortium wrote.
Being homebound for an extended period, the letter continued “is also an issue which has severe implications for the health of wheelchair users who may be subject to pressure ulcers, blood clots, pneumonia, loss of physical function, and depression.”
One recent national survey of people who use wheelchairs found that about two-thirds said they needed repairs at least twice last year, and that repairs took a month or longer to be completed.
If enacted, the Massachusetts law would force manufacturers and providers to speed up the repair process by requiring them to make an assessment of a defective and inoperable wheelchair within three business days of receiving notice.
The proposed law would also require manufacturers and providers to make available a temporary “loaner” wheelchair within four business days of notice.
The bill would require manufacturers and providers to maintain an adequate inventory of parts and set a minimum warranty period of two years, doubling the current minimum warranty period of one year.
The bill would also expand “lemon law” remedies by mandating return or replacement of wheelchairs that are out of service for 21 days or after two failed attempts at repair.
Advocates for people who use wheelchairs have urged lawmakers to add to the bill a provision giving consumers the right to make simple repairs to their wheelchairs (for example, tightening or replacing nuts and bolts, and fixing tires) on their own without voiding their warranty by doing so.
Opposition to the bill has come from a group led by the National Coalition for Assistive & Rehab Technology, a trade group that represents manufacturers and providers of wheelchairs and other medical equipment.
The trade group, in a letter to legislators, wrote the bill “is not the answer … to improvements needed in the critical area of wheelchair repair.”
“We believe the focus should be on changes to problematic insurance plan policies and processes … instead of creating additional confusion, complications, and risks for wheelchair users and others,” the letter said.
The trade group focused on what it said was insurers’ “unreasonable prior approval requirements, excessive documentation requirements, and insufficient payment rates of federal, state, and commercial plans.”
In its letter, the consortium of advocates responded to the trade group by agreeing that there are problems with “excessive paperwork,” but that “this is a very different problem from warranty repair,” which is the focus of the current bill.
Manufacturers and providers “should stand behind their product” when wheelchairs require repairs during the warranty period, the advocates wrote.
Read the Broken Wheelchair Fix article in the Boston Globe.
March 10, 2022
Wheelchairs fail frequently. Researchers estimate that, in a typical six-month period, more than half of wheelchairs break down. And getting them repaired can take a month or longer, leaving wheelchair users stuck at home or in bed, and at an increased risk of medical complications.
The problems are particularly bad in Massachusetts, according to disability advocates. They say the commonwealth’s consumer protections for wheelchair users don’t measure up well to other states. They’re sparring with the wheelchair industry on Beacon Hill over legislation aimed at changing that. . .
“Massachusetts law is definitely behind most of the country,” said attorney Sam Shepard, who worked as a fellow for the Disability Law Center and the National Consumer Law Center. He compared Massachusetts’ wheelchair warranty law with that of every other state in the U.S.
“What I found was pretty unsettling,” he said.
Shepard uncovered quite a few differences between the commonwealth and other states. For example, 16 states require a back-up chair be provided while major repairs are underway. Massachusetts does not.
Another example: Rhode Island and Connecticut require that wheelchair warranties last at least two years. In Massachusetts, the requirement is half that. Warranties can help protect consumers from hefty bills or shoddy products. They also mean less paperwork so repairs can happen faster.
He’s part of a team of wheelchair users and disability advocates pushing for a bill in Massachusetts to provide stronger consumer protections for wheelchair users. The bill is currently working its way through the state legislature. . .
[W]heelchair providers and manufacturers are paid upfront, sometimes as much as $30,000 for a complex wheelchair. But they often lose money on repairs, according to Schmeler’s research. He has proposed a monthly payment system that would task the companies with regularly maintaining and repairing the chairs. Under such a system, he argued, fewer breakdowns would mean more profit, providing a financial incentive for better-functioning chairs.
March 9, 2022
Researchers estimate that more than 50% of wheelchairs break down in a typical six-month period. One study found that among veterans the number is as high as 88%. When a chair breaks, it can take a long time to get it fixed. Experts put the average at two to four weeks, but stories of people waiting six months or longer for a wheelchair repair are common.
Experts pointed to several reasons why wheelchairs break down frequently and why fixing them takes time. Some attributed it to a lack of routine maintenance, others pointed to the sheer complexity of modern power wheelchairs. Repairs can also be delayed by everything from documentation required by insurance companies to a limited inventory of common parts.
For the roughly 5.5 million Americans using wheelchairs, this is more than an inconvenience. While waiting for repairs, people can be stranded at home, stuck in bed, or forced to use a chair that doesn’t fit. When this happens, a person is at an increased risk of developing medical complications and being hospitalized, research suggests. . .
For nearly 15 years, researcher Lynn Worobey has been collecting data on wheelchair breakdowns and repairs. . .
In a study of wheelchair users with spinal cord injuries, 28% of people who experienced breakdowns over a six-month period reported at least one adverse consequence, Worobey found, such as getting stranded. The same study revealed people of color and low-income individuals experienced more frequent wheelchair problems. . .
Mark Schmeler, an associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, lays much of the blame for frequent wheelchair breakdowns on Medicare. With more than 60 million older and disabled beneficiaries, Medicare is among the largest health insurance providers in the country. Plus, many private health insurers adopt policies similar to those Medicare has established. . .
The Medicare Benefit Policies Manual states that wheelchair owners are expected to perform routine maintenance. The document says owners “normally” receive operating manuals that can serve as a guide: “It is reasonable to expect that beneficiaries will perform this maintenance.”
To Schmeler, this approach allows preventable issues to progress to the point where chairs unexpectedly become inoperable — or dangerous. . .
When insurers do not require authorization, a repair typically takes a week, Sargeant estimated, but when insurers mandate prior authorization, it takes closer to 50 days. He said he hopes to develop an industry standard for documentation that would catch fraud while minimizing wait times.