If there were three cell phone companies in your area, all with similarly-priced contracts and phones,
and the company that you chose ended up having the worst coverage area and customer service, would you
renew your contract with them after two years, or would you switch to one of the other companies?|
If you were like most consumers, you'd note which of the other two companies your friends recommended,
and switch to that company. After all, that's what savvy consumers do in situations of poor service.
Interestingly, one of the most common questions I'm asked by mobility consumers and providers alike
is, Why don't some mobility consumers take a more proactive approach toward dealing with poor providers
– that is, why is it that rather than seeking out a better provider, some consumers indefinitely stick
with a poor provider, seemingly choosing to endure bad service, and forever complain about it to anyone
who will listen, instead of taking the initiative to simply find a new provider?
a question that perplexes me, too, where I have peers and consumers who have stayed with the same provider
for years while claiming poor service. If the service is truly horrible, why would a consumer stick with
a provider instead of seeking one of higher quality?
Dispelling "Captive Consumer" Myths
much like one's first cell phone contract, it's sometimes understandable when a consumer ends up with
a poor provider to begin with, as the emotions surrounding needing one's first wheelchair are complex,
and most are intimidated by the wheelchair selection process, unsure what decisions to make. In this
way, it's understandable that some consumers unwittingly purchase a wheelchair from a poor provider.
However, once one experiences poor service, one should logically begin seeking a new provider, if
not to service a current wheelchair, certainly to purchase the next one. And, this is where the peculiar
behavior of some consumers comes in: They purchase second and third wheelchairs through a provider that
they claim to despise, where they seem to make themselves a glutton for punishment. Sometimes I just
want to say, We've been having this same conversation for nine years about how much you despise your
provider – at what point are you going to quite assuming the role of consumer-as-victim, and find a new
When I do bring up the subject of switching providers, consumers often strive to give
reasons why they haven't sought out better service:
My insurer limits me to this provider.
insurers – albeit governmental, private, or HMO – have “preferred provider” lists, where the beneficiary
can choose from a number of providers in an area, not limited to just one. (Surely, there are exceptions,
but they are extremely rare.) Therefore, if one believes that one is limited to a single provider, one
should check with the insurer for a “preferred provider” list, as beneficiaries are virtually always
allowed a choice of local providers.
My wheelchair was purchased through my provider by Medicare,
so I have to go to that provider for the life of the wheelchair.
Beyond a “competitive bidding” area
(which are extremely rare at this writing), Medicare does not lock a beneficiary into a single provider.
One can seek out a new provider as long as the new provider is enrolled as a Medicare provider – and,
from there, it's a matter of the new provider submitting the proper paperwork to service and repair the
wheelchair. One may encounter a provider who only services the wheelchairs that he or she sells because
the original funding documentation for your chair may not be available, and it's required to be in the
possession of the new provider in order to deliver service covered by insurance. However, more and more
providers are open to servicing products as a wise generator of revenue, so they welcome consumers looking
to switch their Medicare and Medicaid business, and may work with you to compile needed documentation.
There's only one provider in my area.
I access among the most comprehensive, up-to-date provider
locator databases in the country for consumers, and I've never entered a consumer's zip code, only to
find one provider. To the contrary, most consumers are within the service area of at least three – but
commonly 5 or more – qualified providers. I've had a consumer complain about the same provider for years
in Southern California; meanwhile, there are no less than 11 qualified providers within a 25-mile radius
of the individual's home. While simply looking in one's local phone book will show providers in an area,
most wheelchair manufacturers have dealer locators on their websites, where entering one's zip code will
provide a comprehensive list of providers. When a consumer truly looks, one is often surprised at the
number of qualified providers nearby.
All providers are terrible, so there's no use in switching.
I've known many providers, including some rotten one's; however, I know many that are great, truly in
it as a personally rewarding career – that is, they care. And, in any given geographical area, there
are excellent providers. Again, seek out the quality providers in one's area – they are there, and it's
one's personal responsibility to find them.
If switching providers is so easy, then do it for
me. ...You don't know what it's like trying to switch.
Over an approximately twenty-year period,
I switched providers four times. It was never a desirable process, but a necessary one, where when service
declined – due to staff changes or new ownership – I sought out a new provider. Today, I'm glad to give
a consumer a list of providers in one's area, and even recommend particular ones if I know of their quality
service. However, it's ultimately each of our sole responsibilities to be accountable for our individual
mobility, including ensuring appropriate service – and we each have to do what it takes to switch providers
The True Cost of Ongoing Poor Service
Many consumers don't realize that when
they stick with a poor provider out of complacency, it also harms others with disabilities. A consumer-driven
market dictates that desirable businesses flourish, and undesirable businesses fade away because they
don't make money. In this same light, when a mobility consumer keeps giving a poor-quality provider one's
business, one is rewarding bad behavior and keeping that provider in business. By contrast, if mobility
consumers productively pursue a consumer-driven model, seeking quality providers, they reward the quality
providers while starving poor providers out of the industry – an advantage for all. It's really simple
market dynamics: Support the good, shun the bad, and the overall quality of service elevates.
Little Now Means a Lot Later
Many consumers are fortunate to have great providers. However, if you've
felt trapped by poor service, start making moves toward a new, better provider. Understand your funding
source's “preferred provider” list in your area; use on-line provider locators to determine all providers
in your area; poll peers for provider recommendations; and, pursue any paperwork process to transfer
your business to a new provider. No, the process of switching providers isn't always easy or seamless.
However, investing a little time now toward securing a meaningful provider will mean a lot toward more
reliable, stress-free mobility in the years to come.
Picking a Provider
Published 2/2010, Copyright 2010, WheelchairJunkie.com