Testimony given to support insurance coverage for motorized wheelchairs

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Norwich business owner Phil Pavone both testified Thursday in favor of Osten’s proposed bill that would require insurance companies to provide more motorized wheelchairs to people in need.

The legislature’s Insurance Committee held a public hearing Thursday on the proposed bill, “An Act Requiring Health Insurance Coverage for Motorized Wheelchairs and Repairs Thereto.”

Pavone hosts an annual “Gift of Mobility” event in which he collects, refurbishes and donates dozens of motorized wheelchairs and scooters to people in need. At an estimated cost of $4,500 each, Pavone has donated 580 motorized wheelchairs and scooters over the past nine years, saving residents an estimated more than $2 million.

During testimony Thursday, Pavone read from some of the several hundred letters he has received from Connecticut residents seeking motorized wheelchairs through the program.

“My brother is 57 years old. He had a stroke,” one letter said. “He is completely paralyzed on the right side of his body. He is also right-handed and is now learning to use his left hand for functions.”

In another letter, a woman described the frustration her disabled husband feels about not being able to help with the children. “He has lost his spark for life and feels that he has failed me as a husband and has failed his kids as a father,” the letter said.

“I had no idea how important these chairs are to people,” Pavone told the committee. “These chairs are a lifeline.”

Osten told the committee many people needing motorized wheelchairs, including veterans, are independent people “in very bad situations” without the resources to fight insurance companies who deny their requests for the devices.

"Once a decision is made, they live with that decision,” Osten said. “We also have a number of veterans who are not getting the resources they need.”

The Insurance Committee has until March 21 to decide whether to give the bill a favorable recommendation to the full General Assembly.

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