Roy Exum: A Shaky Wheelchair Tale

Friday, January 10, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I know nothing about wheelchairs, but after my right leg was amputated during the second week of December, I have taken quite a crash course (pun intended).  Between such God-given delights as the Walter Reid Military Hospital and NASA’s Space program, the medical equipment industry has become enabled to perform so many miracles that today just about any prosthetic device over five years old is out-of-date and anything over 10 years is darn-near obsolete. Ironically, the same bandits who for centuries have marred the ever-noble medical equipment profession are looking much harder for a fast buck and their lust to bilk the medical insurance carriers must stop. Medicare fraud is rampant – the biggest thieves now believed to be white-collar criminals. I believe these are modern-day rogues with perhaps the same bloodlines of pirates dating back to the 17th century. I also believe such louts are enabled to flourish as never before by abusing the weak, the sick, and the helpless who are already blanketed in such a swirl of paperwork and ridiculous bureaucracy that these afflicted souls stay confused and befuddled.

I think most of all human beings can differentiate between right and wrong, sense the good from evil, and it appears to me that new wheelchair owners are among those the scurrilous leeches find as culpable prey. I was told during my amputation and extended hospital stay that my insurance would bear the cost of any badly needed necessities. A good wheelchair was at the top of the list since my failed right arm and missing right leg create a threat for me to topple any minute.

Earlier this week I was informed I was mistaken, that my Blue Cross Blue Shield policy will pay only 75 percent of the wheelchair cost, leaving me with a 25 percent co-pay. I had no idea what a wheelchair cost. The man from a Chattanooga medical supply vendor informed me that officials at the Siskin Rehabilitation Hospital had chosen them to be my wheelchair provider. I had never heard of the local company but, again, I have no idea how the Medicare system works. I was also told a plan had been put in place where I would actually “rent” the wheelchair with my co-pay. When the chair was delivered, I paid $44.28 and then was told “about $20” would be automatically deducted from my credit card in each of the next 10 months. “The rental plan takes care of any repairs the wheelchair might require during the first 10 months and, when the last $20 installment is paid, the wheelchair is yours to keep.”

I told him I had never heard of such an arrangement but, again, I’d never had a wheelchair or a leg amputation. With my initial deposit and then the $20-plus monthly withdrawal for each of the next 10 months, I figured I would have roughly $250 of my money invested in the wheelchair and Blue Cross would pay $750, or the remaining 75 percent. But then my glib-tongued medical equipment phenom committed a bit of a blunder.

My house has two levels and those in the know say it is easiest to keep the new wheelchair downstairs for trips outside and an extra in-house model upstairs. So, I asked if the local supplier had any used wheelchairs, in good condition, that I could buy outright. My “newest ace” volunteered to check the showroom and called me right back. No, there were no used chairs, he said, but they had a new one I could buy for about $250. “It is made by the same company as yours and is almost identical.”

I told him I would think about it as I sniffed around for a second-hand chair but, as I later reflected, is it more than a coincidence I could buy a new chair for roughly the same amount as my Blue Cross co-pay … this without Blue Cross ever having to add as much as a dime?

Just for giggles, I then looked on Amazon and – hark! – there are easily over 50 models of new wheelchairs under $250 and, with my Prime membership, I am assured of total ownership in just two days. I studied my new ProBasics K-4 High Strength Lightweight Wheelchair – which I was led to believe is a $1,000 four-wheeled steed – and Amazon offers a brand new ProBasics Lightweight Wheelchair for $169. The “ultra-lightweight” model is $182.95. Then there is the Roscoe Onyx K4 wheelchair for $149.95 (Roscoe Medical furnishes Amazon with the ProBasics brand) and – this is the best --, the paint-ball shooting emporium, is willing to match Amazon’s $149.95 offer for a K-4 wheelchair from Roscoe Medical.

Understand, I know no one at the Chattanooga medical equipment supplier that was selected for me by Siskin. I believe Siskin was just trying to help me due to my naiveté and inexperience and not in my wildest dreams could I imagine Siskin or Blue Cross willfully becoming party to such an outrage. The people at Siskin I adore but imagine my next horror -- in my recent three-week stay at the Siskin Rehabilitation Hospital, I saw not one in-patient nor any employee who could afford to pay over four times the worth of any wheelchair. I am a lifelong Blue Cross loyalist and know they are zealous in their dedication to their members. I would hope Siskin, Blue Cross, our beleaguered Medicare officials, and anybody else who matters would use this unfortunate mess as a talisman of betterment for those in our community.

I am not a litigious guy. I don’t sue people but you can bet your shirt I have written letters regarding this matter to those I believe are far better equipped than I to cope with distasteful matters, as well as pirates, rogues and leeches. If indeed this is more than a misunderstanding, further information will be forthcoming on

In the past month I have renewed my allegiance to the little guy, those mom-and-pop storefronts that have made Chattanooga and Hamilton County what it is today. All of us must guard against those who prey on our weak and to mark up a wheelchair four times its market value sounds like some nightmare that might occur in some Third World country. When somebody large or small starts playing outside of the lines in a way that denies anyone unjustly, I for one refuse to sit around and blink.

The wheels of justice are rolling.

* * *

“Thus saith the Lord God: ‘Woe unto the vile prophets, that follow their own spirit, and things which they have not seen.’” – Ezekiel 13:3 (NAS)

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