Goal: fair orthotic, prosthetic coverage

Cost caps and other restrictions make it difficult for many Minnesotans to obtain needed orthotic and prosthetic equipment. Rep. John […]

Cost caps and other restrictions make it difficult for many Minnesotans to obtain needed orthotic and prosthetic equipment. Rep. John Kriesel (R- Cottage Grove), an amputee who lost both legs in the war in Iraq, wants to change that. He is working with the Amputee Coalition and other advocates to pass H.F. 847. The bill would require private insurance companies to provide coverage equal to the coverage provided through Medicare.

The bill and its Senate companion, which were introduced last month, are in committee awaiting hearings this month. Kriesel was one of the speakers at a March 7 Amputees Coalition rally, held to draw attention to the bill. As Access Press went to press, a hearing had not been set.

“It’s fair, it’s not asking for a heck of a lot, but it’s helping people get back to life,” said Kriesel. Without his two prosthetic legs he could not have campaigned for and won a House seat, coach his kids’ teams and take part in other activities most people take for granted. He was fortunate to have good coverage as a member of the armed forces but is mindful of those who must battle private insurers for the care they need.

Speakers said some health care plans cap coverage at $2,500 or may restrict patients to one limb for a lifetime.

The bill has run up against opposition from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has raised red flags about additional costs for anyone buying insurance. The organization is also pushing for a cost-benefit analysis on the bill.

Nineteen states have adopted similar legislation. Another 15 are considering similar bills.

Several people who have had limbs amputated due to accidents or health conditions spoke on behalf of the bill. They noted that the need for orthotic and prosthetic devices could happen at any time, for anyone.

Aaron Holm of Shakopee was helping change a tire in January 2007 when he was pinned between two motor vehicles. He lost both legs above the knee. His steps to recovery are described on the Wiggle Your Toes website. He founded the nonprofit group to help other amputees and their families regain independence and mobility.

“A common theme we hear is, my insurance company will not cover the costs of the prosthesis,” Holm said.

Costs for amputees can go up “very, very quickly,” said Rob Rieckenberg, a Twin Cities resident who has been helped by Wiggle Your Toes and other groups.He noted that one little socket on his artificial leg is $22,000. But insurance wouldn’t cover even half of that and he had to fight to get it covered.

Reikenberg said he generally has good insurance coverage through his work. “But I want to help other amputees maintain a normal standard of living,” he said.

“With two million Americans now living with limb loss, we applaud Rep. Kriesel for taking this important step for the limb loss community in Minnesota to obtain fair access to the care they need and deserve,” said Kevin Hines,MN Society of Orthotists, Prosthetists, and Pedorthists. “No one would say you can only have $2,500 a year for a knee replacement or $5,000 for a heart stent, and you certainly wouldn’t suggest someone can only have one heart attack per lifetime, but these are some of the common caps and restrictions that are placed on orthotic and prosthetic devices. We ask all Minnesotans to contact their representatives to support passage of this crucial legislation, which will enable people with limb loss to reach their full potential.”

“This is about equality and good medical care, and I am proud to carry the legislation,” Kriesel said. “We shouldn’t punish people because they carry private insurance.”

Greta Nelson and her son Nick also spoke. Nick, who has popliteal pterygium, is a bilateral amputee. The fifth grader chose to have both legs amputated a few years ago, as the condition created webbing on the back of his legs. He has used prosthetic legs and a wheelchair to get around.

“I think this bill is very important,” Nick Nelson said.

“Without the proper tools, life just doesn’t go on,” Greta Nelson said. Their family has adequate coverage now but she is concerned that could change in the future. Her son is growing, meaning his prosthetic need frequent replacement. He will also eventually age out of his family’s insurance plan, which is another worry.

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