When Buying Used ...

How to be a savvy shopper

by Kathy Wechsler on November 1, 2007 - 9:45am

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 6

So you want to save money on durable medical equipment (DME)? Buying used equipment can save you 50 percent or more over new, depending on the item, its age and condition.

Prices also vary, depending on where you purchase the used equipment. MDA loan closets will loan out pre-owned DME at no charge to those served by the Association.

Other places to find used equipment are DME providers, garage sales, thrift shops, newspaper ads and on Internet Web sites such as Planet Mobility and World Wide Wheelchairs.

“Consumers are being more savvy with their money because funding sources are paying for less and less, and more is coming out of their pocket,” says Christian Galietta, a certified rehab technology supplier (CRTS) and assistive technology supplier (ATS) at Metro Rehab in Chicago.

According to Medicare’s fee schedule, there’s a classification for used DME that’s purchased from an approved Medicare provider.

However tempting it may be to buy used equipment at low prices, special considerations should be made when purchasing these items.

Will it work for you?

Because mobility devices aren’t one-size-fits-all, it’s important when purchasing a used wheelchair or scooter to have an evaluation and/or fitting by a professional who specializes in wheelchair seating, such as a CRTS or occupational or physical therapist (OT or PT). DME providers that sell used mobility devices and MDA loan closets usually offer evaluations and fittings.

An evaluation helps ensure the equipment will fit correctly and meet your needs. After taking measurements, discussing your medical history, the rate at which the neuromuscular disease is progressing and anticipated future needs, the wheelchair-seating expert will determine what changes or additions need to be made to the existing equipment.

The different environments in which you spend the day are vital factors in the evaluation process. The CRTS or therapist will ask about your employment or school status and things that you may need in those environments. He or she will want to know if you have an accessible vehicle and plan to drive while sitting in the wheelchair, so that the seat won’t be too high or low for you to see through the windshield.

Another reason for getting evaluated by a professional is to determine the appropriateness of the mobility device you’re considering.

“It’s important to know if they can even use [the mobility device] safely and correctly,” Galietta says. “If a piece of equipment goes out, there’s a safety concern. And also, what good is it if they can’t use it? Then it’s a waste of time and they get upset, and the resources are not being utilized correctly.”

For example, several years ago, good-hearted friends of a man with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) got together and spent quite a bit of money on a used Segway transportation device. The device, which looks like a pogo stick with two wheels, is meant to be used by a standing person with good balance. It only was useful for a short while before the man’s progression relegated it to the garage.

After the evaluation, the fitting is where the scooter or wheelchair is adjusted, fine-tuned and tweaked. The CRTS goes over the correct way to use and maintain the equipment, as well as how to prevent injury and common problems.

Paying for expert advice

Some DME providers will do an evaluation and fitting for a mobility device you plan to buy elsewhere, such as a garage sale or eBay. These companies often charge a service fee of $300 to $400.

“That will be up to the individual supplier, but sometimes the evaluation might cost more than the used equipment itself,” says Galietta. “I think it’s OK [to skip the evaluation and fitting] if you’re replacing something that you already own with something that is exactly the same. But if you’re buying a completely different [wheelchair or scooter] because you think it might work better, that’s when you need to refer to a professional.”

Some used DME doesn’t require professional evaluation and fitting, such as lifts, ramps, bath chairs, hospital beds, etc., although professional advice is helpful. Galietta suggests trying out such equipment before purchase to make sure it will work for you.

Does it need repairs?

It’s important to find out who will repair your used wheelchair or scooter. Every DME provider is different, but some will repair your wheelchair even if they didn’t originally sell it to you, for a labor rate of about $60 to $80 per hour.

It’s wise to ask the seller if the item has a repair history and get any repair documentation.

“That would tell consumers a lot,” says Galietta. “What good is a used piece of equipment if it always broke when [the previous owner] had it?”

Replacing parts on a used wheelchair or scooter isn’t always easy. Ask your DME provider if replacement parts are still available. Be prepared to provide information such as the equipment‘s make, model and serial number. Sometimes the provider may need to see the device to make sure they order the correct parts.

Most warranties are for the original purchaser of the equipment, but check with the manufacturer or look in the warranty section of the owner’s manual to learn if the warranty is transferable.

Finding used equipment

Many people have discovered craigslist, which is an online database of goods and services offered to and by individuals in your community. Just click on your city and search for the item.

Another option is Disabled Dealer magazine, which is mailed by region to subscribers. Ads are also online.

Craigslist and Disabled Dealer Magazine both let you contact the seller and arrange a meeting to try out the item. With eBay, you also can localize your search, making it easier to meet with the seller.

Maybe you’ve found a piece of DME online, but it’s in another state. If it’s not possible to see the item in person, Galietta recommends asking for photos.

Penny wise, pound foolish

Before searching for any used piece of durable medical equipment, talk to your clinic team to determine the right equipment for you, and identify the features that best meet your needs.

Says Galietta, “I’ve had people who said, ‘we got this person a tub bench because we thought it would help, but they tripped and fell in the tub because of the bench.’ In that situation it’s not a good idea, not worth the cost savings.”

For more tips on safely buying online, see “10 Tips for Safe Online Shopping.”

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