Prices for electric wheelchairs can range from $2,000 for a standard, portable power wheelchair like the Pride Go Chair to $6,000 for a fully adjustable and highly maneuverable model like the Quickie Q500 M Power Wheelchair.
Meanwhile, highly customized electric wheelchairs can cost much more—anywhere between $12,000 and $50,000, according to Henley. And it’s rare for a funding source, be it Medicare or private health insurance, to come close to covering the full retail price.
How you plan to pay for an electric wheelchair can play a significant role in determining your range of wheelchair choices. To help navigate payment options, The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation provides fact sheets, videos and access to information specialists for people learning about the funding process.
To be reimbursed for an electric wheelchair through Medicare, a doctor must prescribe the chair as a medical necessity. Wheelchairs fall under the durable medical equipment (DME) category of Medicare Part B, but Medicare is very restrictive about who can receive reimbursement for a powered wheelchair.
“Under Medicare guidelines, you cannot have any ambulation to get [a wheelchair],” says Bernadette Mauro, director of information and research services at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. No ambulation means the user cannot walk or stand at all.
Next, you must coordinate a meeting with a certified occupational therapist or physical therapist and a Medicare-approved supplier of wheelchairs so they can evaluate your abilities and needs, and submit the proper forms.
From submitting the necessary information to Medicare to finally receiving a custom wheelchair, the process can take four months to a year, says Kiger.
Private insurance companies are no more flexible than Medicare when it comes to funding an electric wheelchair. “Medicare guidelines are used by almost every insurance company,” says Mauro.
It’s possible to pay for an electric wheelchair out-of-pocket if insurance coverage is not available.
Warranties and Return Policies
Warranties from manufacturers generally last one to two years, says Henley, covering motors, electronics, joysticks and frames, but not tires, seats or back cushions.
Return policies vary, and many suppliers will not accept returns, he adds. Ask your supplier about their policy before finalizing a purchase.
Wheelchair casters, tires, arm pads and bearings often need replacing. “Quality dependable service is of great importance,” says Henley. “Research the history of the service department of the dealer from whom you plan to buy a chair,” he adds, recommending talking to others who’ve used that particular store. The lifespan of parts depends on how much a powered wheelchair is used and how well it’s maintained. Keep in mind that Medicare allows for a new power wheelchair every five years.