by Kristy High
Getting a wheelchair or medical stroller for your child can be a surprisingly challenging process. This article describes how we obtained several for my daughter, and the steps required to actually receive them.
About the time my daughter turned four, we reached a point when she could no longer ride comfortably or safely in her regular baby stroller. We went to our specialty provider and asked them what our options were. They suggested a wheelchair. We knew very little about what was available at the time, so other than choosing the color of the frame and seat, we had little say in what type of chair was ordered. We left her appointment that day thinking, “That was easy!”
Little did we know all the work that was to follow for us. Two months later, after we still had not heard anything about the progress on Kendall’s chair, I called the doctor and they referred me to the medical supply company who placed the order. They, in turn, told me that the insurance had yet to make a decision on the claim. I called the insurance company, who explained to me that they had not yet received a claim about a wheelchair.
Thus ensued a circle of phone calls that made me feel as though I could use a full time secretary. Someone had dropped the ball on our order, but no one wanted to take responsibility. Each provider pointed his finger at the next. We finally got some action after I personally spoke with one of the nurses who worked on approval of prior authorizations at our insurance company. I also promised the lady from the medical supply company that I would personally be calling her EVERY day until I knew that the order was complete, processed, and a delivery date set. I kept my promise, and things slowly started moving.
The New Chair…and Another New Chair
When the chair finally arrived (five months later), we were ecstatic. It was beautiful and fit Kendall so well. Kendall has Cerebral Palsy, and her doctors and therapists at Cerebral Palsy Clinic had done an excellent job in choosing a chair that fit her needs. We loved the chair and it surpassed our expectations.
Unfortunately, about a year later, I started to experience some health issues. In my weakened state, I could not lift the chair in and out of our van unassisted (we do not have a wheelchair lift). We also had a problem when Kendall’s grandmother needed to pick her up from school, since her car could not accommodate Kendall’s chair.
When we went to our next Cerebral Palsy Clinic appointment, we talked to them about the new issues that we were experiencing, and they rose to the challenge and ordered a medical stroller for us. A medical stroller is more easily portable than a traditional chair, but accommodates larger individuals. Again, we were unfamiliar with this concept, so other than choosing our color, we had no say in the model that was ordered for us, or the available options.
I prepared myself for another ordeal like we had experienced with the wheelchair, but to my pleasant surprise, there was no hassle. We had switched insurances a few months prior due to a job change, and there was no issue with having two modes of transportation. Many insurances have limits as to what they will pay for and how frequently they will cover new products.
Kendall’s stroller only took about two months to arrive, and we were happy with it in the beginning. It did have its shortcomings, such as no storage basket underneath, no shade to block the sun, it did not recline, the handles were too short (I had to lean over to push the stroller), and worst of all for a self-proclaimed caffeine junkie–no cup holder!
All joking aside, I began to notice at appointments that others had options on their strollers that were absent on ours. When I questioned this, I was told that all options have to be medically based. For example, for a storage basket to be placed on the stroller, you must have a medical reason to need it, like oxygen, a feeding pump, or suction machine. Like I tell my students, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” so I was thankful for the fact that we had a stroller at all, and I moved on.
Last year, Kendall outgrew the seat on her wheelchair and a new one was ordered. This time it went off without a hitch and a new seat was ready in record time. During this same time, she also outgrew her medical stroller (we had been using it about five years). I knew better than to ask for a new stroller since insurance had just footed the bill on the new chair seat, but I did take the stroller and my concerns to our Cerebral Palsy Clinic appointment. I inquired as to the possibility of a kit for “growing” the stroller. I also asked about possibly ordering a basket for the underneath and some new handles. Sadly, I was told that those kits were not an option.
I resigned myself to not having a stroller, and then the therapist showed me the light at the end of the tunnel. Kendall was eligible for a new stroller because hers no longer met her needs, and while insurance would not pay for it, there are other organizations that families can apply to for assistance. I was expecting my fourth child at this time, and depended on the stroller when I had to take Kendall to appointments unassisted so I would not have to try to lift the bulky wheelchair. We applied to the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation Indiana Chapter for assistance. It took about a month, but they agreed to help us, and later that summer, Kendall got her current stroller.
Tips for Ordering
We are so thankful for having both a stroller and wheelchair to use as options for transporting Kendall. She uses the wheelchair primarily at home and at school. We use the stroller for trips out and doctors’ appointments.
When preparing to order a chair or stroller for your child, consider the following points:
- Research your options. Look online, ask parents of children with special needs, talk to your providers, and then tell them you would like time to read reviews and look at possible options before placing an order. This is a major decision, and a chair you’ll be using for a very long time, so your child deserves to have a piece of equipment designed to meet his or her needs.
- Keep your phone numbers handy. Especially important are the numbers for insurance, your doctor, and the company that is supplying the equipment. Do not be afraid to call if you have questions, or just to check on the status of the order.
- Ask for a tentative timeline for the placement of the order and delivery, and then hold them to it. When the date approaches, if you haven’t heard anything, call and ask.
- When in doubt, ask for a supervisor.
- Remember, this is a product that should improve your child’s quality of life. The people you are dealing with should be cognizant and respectful of that. Anything less is unacceptable.