Wheelchair rentals are best for short-term use. In cases of temporary disabilities, such as a broken leg or hip, purchasing a chair might be a waste of money. Also, if you need a custom wheelchair, which can take a provider several weeks to manufacture, a temporary chair may be necessary. Some providers will offer a loaner, but most often, a rental will be required. Some insurance companies also require a long-term wheelchair user to rent the chair before purchasing it.
Rental chairs can range from a basic manual wheelchair to a fairly custom power chair. Many insurance companies also consider a scooter a wheelchair, and may deny a claim for both a scooter and a wheelchair as "same or similar equipment." However, Medicare, Medicaid and certain insurance companies may allow a client to have one of each if medical necessity can be proved. A qualified seating and mobility specialist can determine which is best for you.
While some forms of durable medical equipment, such as respiratory equipment, cannot be provided to an individual without an order from a doctor, wheelchair rentals do not require such an order. However, if the individual isn't willing to pay for the cost of rental out of pocket, a doctor's order must be provided to the provider or the insurance company. Most providers have billing procedures in place and won't require the patient to pay up front, except in the case of a copay or deductible, which should be verified before delivery.
Most insurance companies, including Medicare, will rent a wheelchair for a specific period of months before requiring the provider to "convert to sale." Medicare gives the option to convert the chair to sale or to continue renting. If the patient chooses to continue to rent the chair, it will be placed on a maintenance program, in which Medicare pays the provider once every 6 months for the cost of 1 month's rental. In return, the provider maintains the patient's chair during its use, but the chair is returned to the provider's stock when the patient is finished with it.
Renting a wheelchair is sometimes better than buying one because during the rental period, the provider is required to maintain the chair, including providing loaner chairs during repairs, at no cost to the patient or the insurance company. While labor is sometimes billable, replacement parts are not, since technically the provider, not the patient, owns the chair during the rental period.
Wheelchair rental can sometimes be a complicated process, especially when insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid get involved. Understanding the process makes the overall experience much less stressful for those helping loved ones to cope with injury or illness that requires the use of a wheelchair or other durable medical equipment.