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At this writing, we're on the eve of 2011 and a grim hallmark in access to home medical equipment and mobility products, especially for those with disabilities who receive Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance benefits.

Indeed, 2011 ushers in arguably the most detrimental impact to those who rely on home medical equipment and mobility products in the past 40 years. In some product areas, we see a cumulative funding reduction of approximately 70%. However, what's even more shocking than that number is who must ultimately assume accountability for passing such funding cuts: We, those with disabilities.

See, while congress proposed, then enacted home medical equipment and mobility product funding cuts beginning in 2005, providers spoke up, manufacturers spoke up, and even some legislators spoke up. However, the one voice that could speak up and literally stop these devastating cuts toward our community never spoke a word: Us. We simply allowed the cuts to occur when we had every ability to stop them.

Literally, as those with disabilities, we sat for the past five years, and watched cut after cut after cut occur to our life-sustaining home medical equipment and mobility products, and we just shrugged our shoulders, at best hoping that someone else would advocate for us.

However, no one else could advocate for us to the degree needed. Sure, providers and manufacturers have tried, but they're not the ultimate stakeholders we are and members of Congress and the Senate know that. And, the fact that we, as those with disabilities remained silent as a whole, watching bill after bill get passed, cutting benefits, told our elected officials that, although our lives depend on home medical equipment and mobility products, it was alright with us if they slashed our funding by 70% in some cases. Our legislators noted that if the funding cuts were of real concern to us, we'd speak up; but, we didn't speak up, so that was our consent for them to move forward.

Rightfully, providers fought for us, manufacturers fought for us, and, again, even some legislators fought for us. Yet, we did nothing to fight for ourselves in the way of cumulative advocacy and, make no mistake, a silent constituency is an approving constituency. Let me make this crystal clear: Through our lack of effort and self-advocacy as those with disabilities, we are directly accountable for the cuts to home medical equipment and mobility products. Our legislators aren't to blame; we are. They merely represent us, and we gave them our consent by default to slash our funding.

Still, beyond the detriments to our own home medical equipment and mobility products, we have to ask ourselves the moral question of, what has each of our inactions toward funding cuts done toward others with disabilities?

It's devastated them and that's an unconscionable repercussion that we should each find difficult to live with. It's said that legislators use a formula where each constituent they hear from represents up to 250 other constituents. Therefore, if during the past 5 years of proposed bills followed by enacted funding cuts, we, as individuals, did nothing, each of us is responsible for diminishing the home health care and mobility of up to 250 of our peers with disabilities. If we demonstrate little regard for our own lives, that's sadly our choice; however, when we know others are being harmed, we have a moral obligation to get involved.

And, this is what we must do from this point, forward get involved. We must change our ways immediately. While the harms of competitive bidding and the elimination of the purchase option for Group-2 power wheelchairs have passed where only the least-expensive home medical equipment is being funded regardless of need there is still hope in forthcoming legislation. The next round of legislation involves a proactive approach toward establishing complex rehab technologies like power wheelchairs as their own appropriate funding category, ensuring long-term access for those with severe disabilities. This initiative to maintain complex rehab technology funding is heavily based on consumer self-advocacy, and we've established a very easy way for you to get involved.

We are asking Congress to create a separate complex rehab technology benefit category under the Medicare program. This would include the elimination of Medicare's "In the Home" restriction for complex rehab technology products. Our objective is to improve access for people of all ages, whether covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance.We are asking you to call or email your members of Congress on February 16th, 2011, and ask them to support legislation to establish a Separate Benefit Category under Medicare for Complex Rehab Technology.

Register today at http://www.CELAadvocacy.org to receive your National Call-in Day Packet. And, let us each make an effort to put and end to the silence.

Published 12/2010, Copyright 2010, WheelchairJunkie.com