Scooters should be only for those who need them
A famous "Seinfeld" episode took it to extremes when the ambulatory but self-indulgent George Costanza conned his way into using a personal mobility device and ended up being chased by a posse of older folks who truly needed their scooters.
But the episode pointed to a real problem, as demonstrated by a hearing last week by the US Senate Committee on Aging.
Medicare pays about 80 percent of the cost for the devices, which typically range from $1,500 to $3,500. Committee members, many doctors who testified and reports from government inspectors say that up to 80 percent of the devices go to people who don't actually meet the medical requirements for Medicare to pay.
Sen. Richard D. Blumenthal of Connecticut and other committee members want Medicare to recover the costs for scooters sold to medically ineligible people - about $500 million a year.
The culprit, many at the hearings said, is advertising that depicts the machines as instruments of convenience rather than medical devices. Those ads not only tout the capabilities of the machines, but often inform would-be users that Medicare covers most of the cost.
Beyond the cost to taxpayers, the over-supply of scooters for non-medical reasons has another downside. Several doctors said it makes uses that much more sedentary, in many cases helping to diminish their health.
Medicare has begun a pilot program in seven states to review medical documentation used to obtain scooters and the FBI has begun to examine whether some elements of the industry in Medicare fraud.
In an era in which crucial Medicare is deeply stressed, Congress and the federal agencies are on the mark in trying to ensure that the public only pays for devices that are medically necessary.