Why does my wheelchair that works as my legs cost so much? The ability to walk has no cost. As someone who has been in a wheelchair since about the age of 11, I depend on my chair all day every day. My wheelchair is my independence and it’s the way I get around. Although insurance pays for a chair, it is very expensive and it takes a lot of time and effort to get approved.

Moreover, depending on what state you live in and what insurance you have, you may or may not be approved for the chair that best suits you.

Just recently I had to get a new chair and my insurance denied it. I already had my wheelchair evaluation when I was seen by a physical therapist. I got my measurements, chose a color, and my doctor signed off on my choice. But the insurance company said it was not “medically necessary” and they feel I can use a “simpler chair.” But how? My records show that it is medically necessary. 

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Since I have been diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD), I do not have a choice but to depend on a wheelchair. It is like disabling a disabled person more when insurance does not cover the cost of a chair. 

All wheelchairs should be free and we should not have to go through so much red tape to get something that is very much needed. When I was denied my chair I got really discouraged because I began to think about my everyday life. I began to think about how much more I will have to depend on my mom and sister because they are my caregivers. I also started to think about  my overall health and how my body would feel in a “simpler chair.”

Read more about the epidemiology of LGMD and other types of muscular dystrophy

Along with having LGMD, I also have scoliosis. If you know anything about scoliosis you know it is painful and it could get worse. To me, having a “simpler wheelchair” means not being able to tilt and recline to relieve the pressure that can cause pressure sores. Those features are needed and without them, they can cause a lot of harm or even death. 

Wheelchairs should have all the features needed to help disabled people be independent and as comfortable as possible. The last wheelchair that I had did not include the elevator feature. That feature allows me to rise up so I can reach things that are otherwise out of my reach.  I was denied that feature because insurance did not want to pay for it. 

Able-bodied people can walk into the kitchen and reach things in cabinets or on shelves. Without that feature, disabled people will have to ask for help with a litany of small, routine tasks. For example, if I were in a grocery store and needed to get something off a shelf, having that feature would help me complete that task.

Disabled people already have a hard time dealing with everyday life, so having to fight for our rights at the same time is fundamentally unfair. 

Let us not forget wheelchair repairs. Wheelchair repairs are also expensive and we still have to wait to get it fixed if there are any parts that needed to be ordered for the chair. There have been times when my chair has completely shut down and I had to wait weeks before I can get a new battery. This is why I feel chairs should be free. We face so many obstacles with our chairs that we should not have to worry if insurance is going to approve our claims and then have to wait weeks for the chair repair to be completed. 

I hope one day the cost of a chair can be the least of insurance worries. My mom and I went through a process fighting for my rights to get my chair. My wish is for the insurance representatives to think about the person and their only way of getting around rather than the money.

Our independence matters and our wheelchairs are our legs. Not only is it helping us but our caregivers too.