$351 to Drive 288 Miles: Your Medicaid Money


I have just gotten off the phone with Diana, in Texas, who reports that the temperature there “has been cold, but went up into the sixties today.”  I reported that here in Syracuse, New York, it was -9 degrees when I woke up this morning.  Diana gasped, as well she should.

Diana works for X Med, which is “XMED Oxygen & Medical Equipment, located in Euless, Denton, Addison, Austin and Stafford Texas . . . self-funded, owned and operated by local Texans . . .”  Diana had just spent 15 minutes getting all my pertinent data in order to repair my power wheelchair.

I had gotten Diana because Deb Cody in Senator John DeFrancisco’s office had referred me to her.  Deb had been on the wheelchair repair case since Monday, apparently working with the Onondaga County director of Medicaid, and calling me every day.  Today—only Thursday—she called me with XMED’s phone number.

I had called Senator DeFrancisco’s office at the insistence of a friend.  Let me say right up front here that I am not a Republican, and I had worked with Johnny D way back when we were both young and foolish, and I don’t like him, however, a friend was insistent that I call his office and I was so bloody frustrated that I did.

My power wheelchair, purchased under Medicare and Medicaid, needs repair.  The batteries won’t hold a charge.  As I keep telling everybody who asks—which is everybody to whom I talk—I’m no mechanic but I imagine that the wheelchair needs new batteries.  A repairman should come to my home, stick his computer-thingy into the port on the chair, and take a reading on the power of the batteries; that’s what they’ve been doing for about 12 years.

So I had called Precision Repair, as directed by some ombudsman in Albany.  Precision Repair is located in California.  And why, I ask myself, is New York State Medicaid repair business being shipped to California?  I have no answer for myself, but I think somebody should have an answer.

So I said all the right stuff to Precision Repair to place a repair order.  And then Precision Repair called me back because they hadn’t gotten it right.  In fact, they called me back four times before they got it.  I think they are morons.  Precision-Repair-California said that after they verified my Medicare information then they would forward the order to Precision-Repair-Albany to schedule the repair visit.

I waited a month and a half.  I couldn’t go Christmas shopping at the mall because I didn’t have enough power in my chair.

So I called Precision-Repair-Albany, and Becky told me that they were not currently scheduling wheelchair repair appointments.  Why not, I asked her?  Because, she said, “Corporate” has blocked us.  We can’t schedule any repairs until they authorize it.

Your company is Precision Repair and you can’t schedule repairs?  WTF?  Why not?  Becky said, “I can’t say.”  So I ask to speak to her supervisor, which gets me Brian in Customer Service.  He says the same thing:  they are waiting for Corporate to release them to schedule appointments.  And why won’t Corporate do that, I ask?  Brian says he won’t tell me.  He also won’t tell me his last name but he does give me a reason for that:  he gets a lot of angry callers.

Yeah, Brian at Precision Repair, I just bet you do get a lot of angry callers.  You know what it’s like to have no power in your wheelchair?  It’s like having your feet amputated.  I’ve been sitting on my butt for over a month and you’re telling me there’s no end in sight.  Screw you, buddy.

The history is that my wheelchair was purchased from CNY Medical, which billed Medicare $8500.  Yepper, my power wheelchair costs as much as a car, and it doesn’t have any ruffles or flourishes—no oxygen holder, no left-hand controls, no orthopedic leg extensions—just a standard, right-off-the-assembly-line, power wheelchair.

In early 2014 I called CNY Medical for repair and they refused me; they said they’d lost the Medicaid repair contract.  And they couldn’t—or wouldn’t—tell me who got the contract and who I should call.  I called everybody everywhere, starting with other wheelchair vendors, and what I learned was that wheelchair vendors will only service chairs that they have sold:  they will not repair any chairs they haven’t sold.  Nice, huh?

Around this time, there was a story in the Post-Standard about a man who had purchased his chair from The Scooter Store, which had closed, apparently pursued by a Grand Jury investigation.  And this man had found out the same thing I was learning:  nobody would service his chair.  If a power wheelchair is purchased under Medicare and Medicaid then how is it possible that everybody can refuse to service it?  And if Precision Repair has agreed to do repair work and bill it to Medicare and Medicaid then how can they refuse to schedule an appointment?

So I started working the phone again.  I called the local branch of the NYS Attorney General’s Office, which referred me to their Health Care Bureau, which referred me to their Durable Medical Equipment Unit, where the phone was answered by a woman whose primary language was Spanish and whose secondary language may have been Klingon but it certainly wasn’t English.  I called the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General, where I talked to someone in Human Resources and we both agreed that he didn’t know anything.  I called Arise and Enable and Monroe Wheelchair, where I had purchased a manual wheelchair.  They said we could start over with the paperwork and see if I could be approved for power wheelchair repair; it would take a while, if successful at all.

I went to my physician and he wrote a prescription for a new power wheelchair.  For want of $400 worth of new batteries, we will charge the citizens $8500 for another new power wheelchair.  Have you got any better plan?  Do you know how much it costs to treat the depression caused by being trapped alone in my home?  Not to mention how painful it is?

Last March I went through all this crap because I needed a new charger.  Finally, the woman who works in the Wheelchair Clinic at Upstate Medical Center gave me the number for an ombudsman in Albany.  The ombudsman referred me to Precision-Repair-Albany, where Becky sent a repairman to Syracuse.  The bill was $249 for the charger and $351 to drive the 288 miles roundtrip from Albany to insert it.

So here’s my plan:  the next lottery should be for the opportunity to shoot the state Medicaid director in the head, live and on television.  The next Medicaid director will probably work really hard to straighten out this mess.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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