This is from the press event at The National Press Club in DC discussing getting the iBOT manufatured again.

War Produces Medical Miracles: Who Gets To Use Them?

Here is a great interview with Dean Kamen and others discussing the iBOT on NPR

Questions from end of stair-climbing wheelchair

By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard, Ap Medical Writer – Mon May 25, 12:23 pm ET
WASHINGTON – The nation's first stair-climbing wheelchair hit the market with a bang but disappeared with a whimper, a casualty of price that raises a big question: How much will society agree to pay for high-tech help for the disabled?

Johnson & Johnson quietly sold the last iBOTs this spring, shuttering manufacturing of a wheelchair that doctors had greeted five years ago as potentially revolutionary for the freedom of movement it promised — but which failed to sell more than a few hundred a year. Earlier this month, a veteran who lost his legs in Iraq received the last known available iBOT, donated after its initial owner died.

Now iBOT users who fear their chairs wearing out are joining high-profile inventor Dean Kamen — best known for his Segways — in lobbying Congress for reimbursement changes that they hope could revive a technology that left the market with a $22,000 price tag but that Medicare deemed worth about $6,000.

"If I ever had to get out of this chair, I really don't know if I'd want to live anymore, to be honest with you," says Alan T. Brown, 42, of Hollywood, Fla., who is mostly paralyzed from the chest down and on his second iBOT. "Guys in these chairs ... we might be disabled now, but then we'd really become disabled."

Price wasn't the only factor in the iBOT's demise. Only a small fraction of the paralyzed even were candidates because the high-tech chair required, among other things, use of at least one arm and certain upper-body control.

Still, disability specialists say the iBOT saga has ramifications beyond one gee-whiz but far-from-perfect wheelchair. It raises the issue of how the nation handles different kinds of medical equipment.

Take this example from Dr. Michael Boninger, who directs the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's rehabilitation institute: Medicare routinely pays tens of thousands of dollars for hip replacements to keep the elderly walking pain-free. But a 70-year-old who can't undergo that operation must become too impaired to easily care for herself at home before being approved for a basic electric wheelchair — when short stands in the kitchen are less of an issue than going to the grocery store, Boninger says.

Medicare says that's how Congress wrote its rules.

"The wheelchair is maybe the most enabling technology in medicine, period," Boninger says. "What it is, is discriminatory policy."

The iBOT episode also sends a cautionary signal about pricey innovation. New technology requires scientific evidence that it changes users' lives in ways existing alternatives cannot, says Henry Claypool, the new director of the federal Office on Disability, which advises the secretary of health and human services.

"Innovative technology should be treated as something we need to embrace when we really find it has a chance to advance a group's function and integration into the community," says Claypool, himself a wheelchair user.

Did the iBOT do that? It depends on who you ask.

The iBOT's wheels rotate up and over one another to go up and down steps, using gyroscopes that sense and adjust to a person's center of gravity. The Department of Veterans Affairs bought the chairs for a limited number of disabled soldiers.

Yet by the end of 2006, Medicare had concluded that the stair-climbing function and other features — lifting users to standing height and powering over uneven turf — weren't medically necessary for at-home care; it would pay only the basic electric wheelchair price. Medicare does provide far pricier wheelchairs, equipped for certain pressure-easing motions or to handle breathing equipment, when doctors deem them required.

J&J blamed reimbursement in part for lack of a "sustainable market," but pledged to provide iBOT users repair service through 2013.

"Giving people independence and access and freedom and technology ought to be something we do," says Kamen, who argues that an iBOT might save money on home modifications.

But today's emphasis is to expand access to health care rather than provide pricier improvements, cautions University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon, who tracks J&J. He just heard the venture capitalists who fund device research warn industry that new designs must prove a better value than alternatives.

"To a certain extent, there are breakthroughs we just can't afford," Gordon says.

Gary Linfoot of Clarksville, Tenn., illustrates the pros and cons. The Army pilot was paralyzed in a helicopter crash in Iraq last year and found an iBOT through the nonprofit Huey 091 Foundation — but switches between it and his VA-provided manual wheelchair. The smaller, lightweight manual lets him drive a car, not a van, to Fort Campbell, where he now oversees an aquatic training facility. He installed an elevator in his house.

But he uses the iBOT at home, to reach high shelves or work under his car's hood. He also uses it to visit friends whose houses have a step or two that "may as well be Mount Everest," says Linfoot. "You don't understand all the accessibility issues until you find yourself in one and you're trying to navigate the world yourself."

It makes no sense....

Yesterday i gave an old power wheelchair to a quadriplegic who has been waiting 2 years to get one through Medicare. The smile on his face knowing that he can now get around was priceless. It makes no sense that we have to pass on our used wheelchairs and supplies in order to give people some quality of life. We will change that so people in need can move on.

Here is an iBOT commercial that shows what they can do. These chairs need to be made again.

Veterans Push for Legislation to Cut Cost of High-tech Wheelchairs

Veterans groups and the inventor of the Segway scooter urged Congress to
pass legislation that would make a high-tech mobilized wheelchair more
affordable for wounded veterans and other paralyzed Americans at a May
14 Newsmaker.

The iBOT, a mobile powered wheel chair, has gone out of production
because Medicare is reimbursing purchases at the same rate as other
kinds of wheelchairs. With a price tag of about $22,000, that puts the
iBOT out of the reach of most people in the market for the device, they said.

One of them of who bought his iBOT when it was within his budget is Gary
Linfoot, a helicopter pilot who provided air support for special
operations forces in Iraq. Linfoot was injured in the country in 2008 in
a crash that left him paralyzed.

Linfoot has been maneuvering in an iBOT for about six months. He
testified that it is different from traditional wheelchairs because it
allows him to rise to six feet and talk to people eye-to-eye, ascend
stairs, negotiate curbs and travel over any kind of terrain -- including
sand and dirt.

The iBOT has also revived opportunities that seemed dead when he
returned from the war.

“Suddenly, some of those doors have opened,” Linfoot said at the

A civilian also praised the way the machine changed his outlook. “I felt
like I was not paralyzed anymore,” said Alan Brown, a paraplegic injured
in a swimming accident nearly two decades ago. “This chair is my life.”

Brown said that the iBOT is less expensive than similar wheelchairs on
the market. But without a higher government reimbursement it is still
too costly for him and most of the other 1.3 million Americans with
spinal cord injuries.

Dean Kamen, inventor of the iBOT as well as the Segway, is trying to
convince Congress to restore a higher reimbursement for the iBOT to
account for its greater technological attributes. The rate has fallen
to that for typical wheelchairs -- about $2,000.

“It’s a sad story if (iBOTs) go away, but it’s not because there’s a
villain,” Kamen said. “Sometimes bad policy just happens.”

He said society has an obligation to give veterans the benefit of the
best technology. “What do we owe people we’ve sent into harm’s way?”
--Mark Schoeff Jr.

Watch out D.C I am getting ready to come back.

Today was an unbelievably emotional day. The day started at The Walter Reed Army Medical Center where Dean Kamen, Stephen Baldwin, Leeann Tweedan and I went to visit injured soldiers who just returned home. I have never seen so many young men, who served our country, missing arms and legs -- it was absolutely horrifying. We also saw so many paralyzed soldiers. Dean and I left the hospital, looked at each other, and realized even more-so how imperative it is to keep the iBOT wheelchair in production.

The Huey 091 Foundation which has been donating iBOT wheelchairs to soldiers, made a donation of an iBOT to a quadruple amputee soldier who just returned from the war. The iBOT was given to the Huey 091 Foundation by the Darreyll Gwynn Foundation which also donates wheelchairs to people who can’t afford them. By giving this young man an iBOT – we changed his life. What a great feeling it was to see his face and know we made a difference.

At 3pm we had a press conference at the National Press Club - a Newsmaker event. Gary Lawson(Heuy 091 Foundation), William Chatfield (SSS), Jim Palmershon (American Airlines), Brandon Millet (Founder of The GI Film Festival), Gary Linfoot (a spinal cord injured fighter pilot who uses an iBOT), and I addressed the media about the discontinuing of the iBOT wheelchair. I think people were shocked by this news. Our support to get this changed is growing rapidly. At the end of the event, Stephen Baldwin grabbed the microphone and publicly joined our team. He started calling for immediate action and awareness of this issue. It was very inspiring!

The final highlight: Dean Kamen agreed to be the Guest of Honor at the 21st Annual Celebrity Golf & Tennis Tournament on August 3, 2009 benefiting The Alan T Brown Foundation. It is very difficult to describe the range of emotions I felt this week, but I feel good knowing this is just the beginning! This is one piece of my overall goal to make sure the 1.3 million people with spinal cord injuries and 5.7 people who suffer from paralysis will have a better quality of life. Watch out D.C – I’m planning my comeback!

Great day in DC

What a great day. I met with Dean Kamen and we discussed our game plan for getting the iBOT wheelchair made again. We know that we are both totally committed to making sure our government understand how the iBOT changes peoples lives who use the chair and the people around them.

We headed over to The GI Film Festival (which is taking place this week)reception at the Rusell Senate Caucus Room. Gary Lawson from The Huey 091 Foundation which buys iBOT's and gives them out to soldiers who return from war addressed the room to discuss the iBOT and how we need to get these chairs rolling again. After that Dean Kamen spoke about his commitment to helping our troops that come home in need of wheelchairs and in need of new arms (the Deka Arm) which is like no other. Dean said "He would never stop creating devices to better individual's lives".

Here are some pictures from the reception. Kelsey Grammer, Senator John McCain, Leeann Tweeden, Dean Kamen and oters were on hand. Big day tomorrow with a visit to the Walter Reed Hostital and then a Press Conference at The Nation Press Club.

The iBOT will roll again.....

Today I arrived in DC to get ready for the next 2 days of events. We did a walk through at the Senate Building where tomorrows evenings reception will take place in the Russell Senate Caucus Room. After that, I met with Dean Kamen's assistant to catch up and organize for the Thursday Newsmaker event at 3pm at the National Press Club. Below is the media advisory for Thursday's press conference.

Low-Reimbursement Rate Threatens Wheelchair for Wounded Vets

Contact: Mark Schoeff Jr., chair, NPC Newsmakers Committee (202-662-7218,

Dean Kamen, and inventor and entrepreneur, and Bill Chatfield, director of the Selective Service System, will discuss how a low Medicare reimbursement rate has put out of production a mobile wheelchair that
could benefit wounded veterans at a National Press Club Newsmakers press conference at 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 14, in the Broadcast Operations Center, Room 480, of the National Press Building, 529 14th St., N.W.

Kamen and Chatfield will advocate for the iBOT, a mobile powered wheelchair that allows users to climb stairs, mount curbs, go to the beach, cover rough terrain and rise up to 6' tall in order to converse
with another person at eye level. They also will explore the importance of providing state-of-the art rehabilitation technology to wounded veterans and 1.3 million Americans with spinal cord injuries.

Kamen and Chatfield will be joined by Brandon Millett, president of the GI Film Festival, which is underway this week in Washington.

The iBOT is not being manufactured because Medicare and most private insurers only cover a fraction of the device's cost. That price is less expensive than other chairs currently on that market that do not give a person as much independence as the iBOT, according to its supporters. Regardless of individual needs or ability
to pay, no one can purchase an iBOT. Wounded veterans who were previously able to obtain the device are no longer able to do so.

Going Back to D.C.Tuesday

I am getting ready to go Capitol Hill where we will be with Dean Kamen. Dean Kamen is an inventor, entrepreneur, and a tireless advocate for science and technology. He is the founder and president of DEKA Research & Development Corporation, where he develops internally generated inventions and provides research and development for major corporate clients. He holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents for innovative devices that have expanded the frontiers of health care worldwide. Some of his notable inventions include the first wearable insulin pump for diabetics, the HomeChoice™ portable peritoneal dialysis machine, the INDEPENDENCE® IBOT® Mobility System, and the Segway® Human Transporter.

I will be working with the Huey 091 Foundation which gives iBOT's to our country's Veterans. The Huey 091 Foundation and American Airlines will be hosting a reception to honor the GI Film Festival as well as honoring members of the Senate and Congress who served our country at Russell Senate Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building.

On Thursday we will be back at The National Press Club at 10am for a Newsmaker Event. After that we plan on going to Capitol Hill and the Walter Reed Hospital.

Our Goal is to open up peoples eyes to the fact that the most amazing wheelchair is no longer being manufactured and that it needs to change. Not surprisingly, the people who are making the coverage decisions have full use of their legs and arms and are not committed to a lifetime sentence sitting in a chair. It saddens me to think there are many people who will not be able to experience the freedom that I have had the opportunity to experience for the last few years. It changed my life and it depresses me even more to think that the freedom I and others who have been fortunate enough to obtain an iBOT have found, will have that freedom taken away again. We have Technology to change people’s lives and we are going to put on a shelf?