From the Office of Inspector General (OIG), U.S. Department of
Health & Human Services
Wheelchair scams are another very common type of durable medical
equipment (DME) fraud. Mechanical and motorized wheelchairs can assist a
beneficiary who has a chronic ailment or disability that
prevents her from freely ambulating. The power wheelchair industry
has grown into an almost billion dollar per year industry. You’ve
probably seen commercials on TV offering wheelchairs at “little or
no cost to you.” Be aware, the Medicare rules stipulate that you
must have a legitimate need before obtaining these devices, and a
Certificate of Medical Necessity must be signed by your doctor.
How the Scam Works
DME street scammers may approach you to offer a power wheelchair
that is a “free benefit” for having Medicare. This is not
the case. The beneficiary must have a legitimate need, co-pays and/or
deductibles may have to be met and the physician prescribing the device
must have examined the patient. The cost of these power devices runs
from $1,500 to $6,000, depending upon the model. In addition,
accessories may be ordered that are not needed, driving the cost up
higher by several thousand dollars.
Often a scam artist will contact the beneficiary and use scare
tactics. This includes telling the beneficiary that Medicare is running
out of money so the beneficiary better get his wheelchair now even
though it’s not needed at this time. Getting equipment now for
possible future needs does not adhere to the Medicare rules and is
How to Fight Back
Do not let anyone talk you into stockpiling equipment for later use.
If you do need the equipment, it should only be ordered only through
your regular family physician.
If someone calls and tries to threaten or pressure you into
something, simply hang up the phone.
Be aware that you are responsible for 20 percent of the final
amount, including potentially unnecessary add-ons and accessories, for
the device ordered. Frequently the scammers do not explain this.