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If you closely watch car commercials, you'll note that they show cars loaded with all options; yet, in bold numbers, they advertise the price of a base model. Of course, despite the tiny disclaimer that's at the bottom of the screen, which reads, "Base model $21,900; equipped as shown, $31,400," many consumers still find themselves at the car dealer, disappointed that they aren't getting the fancy model for the $21,900 advertised price.

Interestingly, this situation - what's seen versus what you can afford - is occurring in the power wheelchair market, where a consumer may see all kinds of whiz-bang, go-fast features available on the power wheelchair model that he or she orders, but then receives a model with few or none of them when the actual wheelchair arrives. Why is that?

In two words, funding constraints. It used to be that higher-end rehab power wheelchairs were fairly singular in their offerings. If you ordered a power wheelchair, it was typically only available with one level of motors, electronics, and batteries - what you saw when you ordered it was exactly what you received when it arrived.

However, such funding cuts as those by Medicare and state Medicaids in recent years have dictated that power wheelchairs now exist in "packages" of sorts, where a given base can be configured from low- to high-end, based on the motors, electronics, batteries, and seating chosen. For example, a particular base can be funded with 6 mph motors, 70A basic electronics, and NF-22 batteries, fitting in with, say, Group 3 Medicare/Medicaid funding. However, that same power wheelchair may also be available with 8 mph motors, 100A on-screen electronics, and Group-24 batteries, offering notable differences from lesser-equipped versions, but not funded by governmental insurance, reserved for private funding. As a result, when a consumer tries a high-end version - typically because that was the demonstration unit that the provider had - but then receives a lower-end version, it's understandable that the consumer is upset or disappointed. Again, though, it's important to realize that such a situation isn't bait-and-switch, but a funding reality, where one's insurance wouldn't pay for an upgraded version.

For these reasons, it's vital that, as a consumer, you clarify and understand what you're going to receive when ordering a power wheelchair that's funded by insurance. A provider who's well versed in funding protocols can best confirm exactly what your insurance will cover (determining exact coverage criteria under programs like Medicare can be very difficult for individual consumers). Also, it's helpful to study the power wheelchair's marketing literature to best understand what's standard versus optional, recognizing and discussing any optional features that may not be funded by your insurance. Sure, one expects providers to clearly explain exactly what's being ordered; yet, there's a lot discussed in the selection process, and some details can be overlooked or confused, so it's important for us, as consumers, to assume some responsibility in the process, confirming precisely what's being ordered, in which configuration. Of course, some providers go as far as giving consumers an itemized list of the ordered configuration - and you should request this! - avoiding any confusion.

No, selecting a power wheelchair isn't as easy as selecting a car - there are a lot more variables to your wheelchair needs. However, there are similarities in that it's vital that you know exactly what you're getting for your money, or your insurance dollars, as the case may be. Understand exactly what your insurance will fund by speaking openly with your provider; assess whether the demonstration wheelchair that you try is different in features and specifications than the one that you may ultimately order; fully read the wheelchair's literature to understand what configurations are standard versus optional; and, request a final itemized list of the ordered configuration. If you practice these principals when ordering your next power wheelchair, hopefully the image in your mind will match the wheelchair that's delivered to your door.

Published 3/08, Copyright 2008,