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Department of Rehabilitation Medicine

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Frequency of purchase and associated costs of assistive technology for Washington State Medicaid program enrollees with spina bifida by age


Bamer, A.M., Connell, F.A., Dudgeon, B.J., & Johnson, K.L



Publication Info:

Disability and Health Journal, 3:155-161


BACKGROUND: Assistive technology (AT) is one strategy to mitigate or eliminate barriers to independence for individuals with disabilities, including those with spina bifida (SB). However, little is known about current use and costs of AT for people with SB, including the cost burden to medical insurance payees.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to evaluate frequency of AT purchases and their associated costs for individuals with SB covered by the Washington State Medicaid program. Additionally, we sought to compare Medicaid reimbursement for AT to the overall Medicaid reimbursement for all medical care for these individuals.
METHODS: Data included all electronic claims and eligibility records of persons covered by the Medicaid program over a 4-year period (2001-2004) who had at least one service with a coded diagnosis of SB. Procedure codes were reviewed and grouped into the following AT categories: manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs, wheelchair cushions and seats, wheelchair accessories and repairs, wheelchair rental, ambulatory aids, orthotic and prosthetic devices, positioning aids, bathroom equipment, beds and bed accessories, and communication and hearing aids. Age group analyses were conducted after dividing patients into 3 age groups (0-15, 16-25, and 26+). Further subgroup analyses were done for individuals with dual or capitated medical coverage compared with those who had fee-for-service Medicaid-only coverage.
RESULTS: A total of 984 individuals with at least one diagnosis of SB during the 4-year study period were identified. On average, approximately one third of individuals made claims for some type of AT per year; the majority of these AT claims (87%) were for mobility-related AT. Average annual Medicaid cost of AT was $494 per enrollee and AT accounted for 3.3% of all Medicaid costs for these individuals. AT-related costs were highest for those aged 0-15 years and lowest for those aged 16-25 years. Persons with only fee-for-service Medicaid coverage had more than twice the annualized Medicaid AT-related expenditures compared to those with additional coverage or who were covered under a Medicaid capitation plan.
CONCLUSIONS: Medicaid reimbursement for AT, as classified in this study, is a relatively low percentage of overall medical costs for individuals with SB. Because of the small percentage of non-mobility-related AT paid for in this study, we believe there may be a substantial unmet need for AT in this population and/or that individuals with SB may have significant AT-related out-of-pocket expenses. Given its large potential impact and relatively low cost burden to Medicaid, AT is a "good buy" and coverage for AT should be expanded.

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