“There was a problem every time, without exception,” she said.
State Sen. John Cronin is one of the sponsors of the bill that would try to speed up repairs by expanding warranty protections and requiring mandatory assessments of broken wheelchairs within three days. At the press conference, which was conducted remotely online and attended by more than 30 wheelchair users, Cronin said many other states have already adopted the measures now proposed in Massachusetts.
“In other parts of the country there are stronger protections,” he said. “It’s time for Massachusetts to step up.”
Rick Glassman, director of advocacy for the Disability Law Center, helped organize the press conference to mobilize support for the bill, which he called a necessary milestone to improve the lives of wheelchair users.
The bill, which was approved in November by a joint legislative committee, is currently before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Supporters say they are hoping for the bill to pass quickly before the Legislative Assembly adjourns at the end of next month.
The bill is supported by a wide range of advocates. In a letter to lawmakers, a consortium of 15 organizations, including the Disability Policy Consortium and the Boston Center for Independent Living, expressed strong support.
“Our organizations routinely work with people who struggle to obtain timely and reasonable repairs, often in isolation at home for long periods of time,” the consortium wrote.
Delays in repairs leave many wheelchair users “stranded at home for days or weeks or even months at a time, unable to get to work, school, doctor’s appointments, grocery store or other places in the community,” the consortium wrote. .
Being confined to the home for an extended period, the letter continues, “is also a problem which has serious implications for the health of wheelchair users who may be prone to pressure ulcers, blood clots, pneumonia, loss of physical function and depression”.
A recent national survey of people who use wheelchairs found that around two-thirds said they needed repairs at least twice in the past year and that repairs took a month or more to complete.
If enacted, the Massachusetts law would require manufacturers and suppliers to expedite the repair process by requiring them to make an assessment of a defective and inoperable wheelchair within three business days of receiving notification.
The proposed law would also require manufacturers and suppliers to make a temporary “loaner” wheelchair available within four working days of notification.
The bill would require manufacturers and suppliers to maintain an adequate inventory of parts and set a minimum warranty period of two years, doubling the current minimum warranty period of one year.
The bill would also expand “lemon law” remedies by mandating the return or replacement of wheelchairs that are out of service for 21 days or after two failed repair attempts.
Wheelchair advocates have urged lawmakers to add a provision to the bill giving consumers the right to make simple repairs to their wheelchairs themselves (for example, tightening or replacing nuts and bolts and repairing tires) without voiding their warranty by doing so.
Opposition to the bill came from a group led by the National Coalition For Assistive & Rehab Technology, a trade group that represents manufacturers and suppliers of wheelchairs and other medical equipment.
The trade group, in a letter to lawmakers, wrote that the bill “is not the answer…to needed improvements in the critical area of wheelchair repair.”
“We believe that the focus should be on making changes to problematic insurance plan policies and processes…instead of creating additional confusion, complications and risk for wheelchair users and others,” says the letter.
The trade group focused on what it said were “unreasonable pre-approval requirements from insurers, excessive documentation requirements, and insufficient payment rates from federal, state, and commercial plans.”
In its letter, the consortium of lawyers responded to the trade group by agreeing that there were issues of “excessive paperwork”, but that “this is a very different issue from warranty repair”, which is central of the current bill.
Manufacturers and suppliers “should stand behind their product” when wheelchairs require repairs within the warranty period, the advocates wrote.