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.


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