‘Incredibly frustrating.’ New law will dramatically speed up wheelchair repairs

Gov. Ned Lamont is holding a bill signing ceremony for a new law that promises to dramatically speed up repairs.

John Craven

Jun 19, 2024, 9:35 PM

Updated 35 days ago

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Relief is finally coming to wheelchair users who often wait months for critical repairs.
On Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont is holding a bill signing ceremony for a new law that promises to dramatically speed up repairs.
“INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING”
At first glance, Jonathan Sigworth, of Stratford, looks like any other remote worker, except that he’s confined to a wheelchair. And if it breaks, repairs can take months.
“If I can’t go from my bed to here in my chair, then it’s kind of a problem,” he said.
Sigworth started the disability rights group More Than Walking and is the former chair of the Connecticut Wheelchair Reform Coalition. For years, he’s pushed state lawmakers to address long wait times.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” he said. “And the cost isn’t just our time; it’s our livelihood. How can you be expected to go to work if your wheelchair is broken?”
WHEELCHAIR REPAIR LAW
Lawmakers finally acted.
A new state law gives wheelchair dealers one business day to respond to repair requests. They will then have 10 days to complete a repair, unless there are delays getting parts or insurance approval. Customers will also be guaranteed in-home service.
As for insurance, Medicaid will no longer require pre-authorization as of July 1. The change extends to private insurance carriers at the beginning of 2025.
“Prior authorization takes up, on average, eight days,” Sigworth said.
The new law arose from a task force that includes Sigworth and other advocates, as well as state lawmakers, insurance carriers and wheelchair industry representatives. The group issued 12 recommendations, but industry groups disagreed with several of them.
“WE DON’T HAVE THE PEOPLE”
Connecticut is now dominated by three wheelchair companies after a wave of consolidation. All three companies argue that the new 10-day deadline will be difficult to meet.
“We just don't have the capacity. We don't have the people; we don’t have the resources,” Numotion Executive Vice President Gary Gilberti told the panel last August. “And the reimbursement structure that we’re within right now doesn't support that.”
The wheelchair industry notes that insurance doesn’t cover travel expenses – even for customers who live hours away. Both sides hoped the new law would force insurance carriers to cover transportation to repair shops, but that provision was not included in the final bill.
“We can do 7-8 repairs per technician in the shop vs. 4-5 repairs in the consumer’s home,” National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology executive director Wayne Grau wrote lawmakers. “Sometimes, we could assess or repair the wheelchair the next day if the consumer could come into the shop.”
Carriers also don’t cover preventative maintenance that could cut down on repairs – another change that didn’t make it into the legislation.
Still, Sigworth thinks the new law will make a big difference. “Fewer people winding up in nursing homes, fewer hospitalizations resulting in secondary conditions and more people back to work,” he said.
LEARN MORE
Click here to attend Thursday’s bill signing ceremony and learn more about the new wheelchair repair law.


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