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      Need a wheelchair? New Medicare rules mean fewer choices

      When the directional control on Chad Norton's power wheelchair broke last month. He says he was told by Medicare that the only place he could get it repaired was a medical equipment supplier in Albany which is 150 miles away.

      "I think it's truly a disgrace because they don't realize the limitations of the disabled," Norton told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon.

      On July 1st, Medicare instituted new rules for this region. Medical suppliers for wheelchairs, hospital beds, walkers and other accessories had to submit competitive bids to be certified in order to do business with Medicare.

      Medicare spokesman Jeffrey Hall says that Chad Norton could still have had his wheelchair repaired locally. He says beneficiaries can still have their wheelchairs repaired at the same supplier that provided them at no extra cost. But Hall concedes that "under the new database there's only a few" certified suppliers in this area.

      He says when it comes to power wheelchairs, "We're no longer selling them to recipients, we're renting them. It saves taxpayers a lot of money." Hall says the new competitive bidding process was instituted in New York State because "it is one region where there's been a lot of fraud and abuse."

      The new rules will cut into John Komuda's business. He has owned C.N.Y. Medical Products for 32 years. Komuda says because he lost out in the competitive bid process, he will lose business and may have to lay off some employees. He says the real losers are his clients, the disabled. "They're not happy. They're thinking I'm turning my back on them and I'm not turning my back on them. I am being forced not to service them, because of the new Medicare program."

      Disabled activist Sally Johnston drove her motorized wheelchair in Monday's parade in Syracuse marking the anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Johnston says there are two bills before congress to repeal the new medicare rules for medical equipment. She says there's an on-line petition urging congress to enact the measures. "I'm completely shocked. I think it's horrible. What are people going to do? Howw are they going to get their equipment?" Johnston said.

      Chad Norton says a friend was able to fix the electric control on his wheelchair. He's joined a growing number of disabled people who don't like the new medicare rules. "I'm going to fight as long as I need to." he said

      As Medicare tries to cut down on waste and abuse, many disabled and seniors feel they're paying the price by having to deal with long distance medical suppliers.