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Grassley Blasts Wasteful Medicare Spending

Medicare and its beneficiaries paid four times the average supplier cost for standard-issue power wheelchairs in the first half of 2007, according to a report released Wednesday by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The news drew the immediate condemnation of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been eyeing wheelchair overpayments since 2004, when he was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. From Grassley’s statement:

At a time when every health care dollar counts, it’s infuriating to learn that the government is throwing away money and is still overpaying for power wheelchairs. It looks to me that not much has changed since my last hearing on power wheelchairs some five years ago.

The wheelchair lobby has blasted similar reports in the past, arguing that the suppliers’ numbers represent only the pricetag for the equipment without considering the costs of other services required by Medicare beneficiaries — things like delivery expenses, patient assessments and repairs.

Still, the report is sure to be propped up as evidence that there’s plenty of fat in the Medicare program waiting to be trimmed in order to pay for other health reform initiatives. Indeed, President Obama for months has argued that very message, only to be met with howls from many Republicans, who are portraying the Democrats’ proposed Medicare cuts as being a threat to the well-being of seniors and the disabled.

This is nuanced stuff, but perhaps reports like this one can persuade some Republicans that not all Medicare cuts threaten to leave grandma in a lurch. Clearly, Grassley needs no convincing.

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