Roughly 1 in 3 children with cerebral palsy cannot walk. Having access to the right wheelchair can mean all the difference to, not only their mobility, but also their sense of freedom and independence. All of this can have a very positive impact on all aspects of development.
Wheelchairs are not cheap. A new wheelchair, even the most basic models, can cost several hundred dollars. Power wheelchairs and custom wheelchairs can cost as much as a car. Children grow, so keep in mind that young children will outgrow their wheelchair and will most likely need to have it adapted or replaced once or twice before they reach full height. The costs can be intimidating at best.
Some funding options that may be presented to you include:
Wheelchair companies, not unlike car companies, frequently offer in-house financing or partner with other financial institutions. By perusing wheelchair manufacturing companies’ websites, you can get some idea of how this is done. At some point, you should make an appointment with a representative to talk about funding options. As with automobiles, there is an application process and your credit rating will be considered.
Private Insurance Companies – most insurance companies will cover the costs of a wheelchair, but you must go through a process of documenting exactly what and why your child needs what they need. You will be required to provide documentation from doctors and therapists that claim and verify those needs. It may become a minor battle between what you NEED versus what you WANT. Insurance companies may balk at paying for expensive wheelchairs if they perceive that a less expensive model will suffice, especially if its intended use is for a growing child. You have the right to appeal any denials and return with more extensive documentation regarding your child’s needs. You may want to have a doctor advocate on your behalf.
Medicare – SSDI (Social Security Disability Income), should your child quality, can also help with the purchase of a wheelchair, provided, once again, you provide adequate documentation of necessity. There are rules and regulations that vary from state to state regarding the funding of equipment. Your local Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services should be able to provide you with information pertaining to your state. Again, don’t expect them to want to pay for anything more than the minimum required equipment.
Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) both offer health programs for children of low-income adults. Again, the need for a wheelchair, including the type and cost need to be well-documented and submitted for approval. And while all Medicaid and CHIP programs must meet certain federal guidelines, full regulations can vary from state to state. Some states are willing to pay for 100% of an approved wheelchair, while others don’t pay for wheelchairs at all. Your best bet is to thoroughly research your state’s Medicaid policies, including how soon and under what circumstances will they participate in the payment of a 2nd or 3rd wheelchair.
For families who fail to qualify for state assistance because they earn too much and are otherwise underinsured or uninsured, there are other private assistance programs they can to turn to. Organizations such as Disabled Children’s Relief Fund, Kids Mobility Network Inc., United Healthcare Children’s Foundation and Children’s Relief Fund raise money and accept donations in an effort to see that every child that needs a wheelchair gets one. If your child needs a wheelchair and you are struggling with financial resources, do not be afraid to let your needs be known to your community. Many churches and social organizations such as the Lion’s Club nurture funds and organize fundraisers for just such requests.
Getting your cerebral palsy child’s mobility needs met is never a simple task, even when money is not the issue. When money is the issue, the closed doors and endless red tape can seem insurmountable. But there’s always an answer for those willing to put in the work.