This article was reviewed by Senior Director of Community Engagement and COPD360social Community Manager, Bill Clark, as well as certified staff Respiratory Therapists on January 29, 2020.
Dear COPD Coach,
My wife has COPD, which appears to be getting worse. One of the things we loved to do was to go to craft fairs, which is much more difficult now. Someone suggested that we get a mobility scooter for her to use. Are mobility scooters paid for by Medicare? Also, I went on eBay and found several for a very reasonable price. Are these worth buying?
—How to Stay Mobile
Medicare most generally will not pay for a mobility scooter, but often will pay for a mobility chair to be used in the home. Be very vigilant! There are companies out there who will claim that Medicare will pay for a scooter or mobility chair. They get you to sign a contract, which in the small print says that if they are not able to get payment from Medicare, you are responsible for the entire amount. This can result in you paying installments for a very long time at high interest rates. Do not sign any contract until you have had it reviewed by a legal professional!
When looking at scooters to purchase, there are some things to keep in mind. Many if not most of the scooters you find on sites like eBay are imported. While they may work for a while, there are no service centers or parts available to fix them if they break down. Scooters (and mobility chairs) are somewhat complex and not usually able to be fixed by the average user. When something goes wrong, the fault is usually electrical and most often requires a replacement part. There are some excellent companies out there who offer quality chairs and scooters that have service and parts available.
The first thing you need to do is your homework.
- Does the scooter have enough range for your intended use? Some scooters only offer a range of just a few miles, while some offer ranges in excess of 20 miles.
- Will the scooter work on the type of terrain you are likely to encounter? Many scooters do not do well on grass or gravel. If you intend to use the scooter on a rough service, generally you will require larger tires and a little more power available.
- Is the scooter stable? I have seen some scooters (usually the smaller compact models) that have a tendency to want to tip over. Believe it or not, many people are injured each year when the scooter tips over. Also make sure the scooter has sufficient weight capacity for it’s rider. Many of the smaller scooters have a very limited weight capacity.
- Make sure that you have the means to transport the scooter. There are a number of good transport options. Rack carriers that mount in a trailer hitch are a good option, but have the limitation of allowing the scooter to be exposed to the elements. There are also vehicle lifts available to lift the scooter into an RV, van or truck. Many scooters are built to be disassembled into several parts. Usually however, this is difficult for the user unless they have a healthy person to do the lifting. Best thing here is to visit a dealer and discuss transport options. If you are not able to transport the scooter, it will not be much use to you!
- Make sure the user has the ability to operate the scooter. While not usually difficult, there is a learning curve. Practice with the unit before you take it out in public.
- If you use oxygen, make sure the scooter has the ability to carry whatever type of oxygen supply you intend to use. There are special carriers available for oxygen cylinders. If you use a portable concentrator, make sure the unit has a large enough basket on the back to accommodate. Important: DO NOT CARRY YOUR POC OR CYLINDERS IN THE FRONT BASKET OR ON THE FLOOR OF THE SCOOTER! Having any weight in a front basket makes it harder to steer the scooter, and can even make the scooter somewhat unstable! Having your oxygen supply on the floor of the scooter risks damage to the equipment or you!
Some other options to find a scooter are local classified ads or sites like Craigslist. Oftentimes you will find a great scooter no longer needed by the seller. If you do purchase one this way make sure you test drive it for an extended period of time. Also make sure it is a name brand product that offers service and parts and that the parts are still available (in case of an older product). Plan on purchasing new batteries. If the scooter batteries are old or have not been kept charged the entire time it was in storage, the batteries will generally not hold a charge for very long and the range will be severely compromised. Once you get your scooter, KEEP IT PLUGGED IN! The batteries are an expensive investment (sometimes approaching $200) and need to be taken care of.
Mobility is very important for many people with COPD. With proper research and some common sense, having a scooter can be life changing ….just watch out for the pot holes!
-The COPD Coach
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