It's not your usual dry debate over Medicare spending: In this case, it involves amputees fighting for artificial legs and feet. Nearly 150 amputees and their supporters descended on Washington yesterday to protest changes they say will make it harder for them to get prostheses, the Washington Post reports. For example, those who sometimes use a walker or a cane would not be eligible for a high-tech prosthetic but would instead have to settle for an older, less functional one, reports the AP. Amputees with certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure and those who haven't been able to achieve a "natural gait" with prostheses also would be affected by the new rules. About 150,000 people with leg amputations are covered under Medicare, but all 2 million US amputees could be affected, as Veterans Affairs and private insurers tend to follow Medicare's lead.
The proposal is in response to an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services. Between 2005 and 2009, it found that the number of patients receiving artificial legs decreased, while Medicare spending on the devices increased by 25%. (That might be because advances driven by returning vets have made the devices better but pricier, an industry exec tells the Post.) Investigators also found that there was no evidence of a doctor's referral for $61 million worth of prostheses. Opponents to the changes say that amputees should not suffer in order for the agency to cut costs. “Arms and legs are not a luxury and shouldn't be treated as such," says amputee Jack Richmond of the Amputee Coalition, which includes patients and the American Orthotic Prosthetic Association. (Read more amputees stories.)