Another vendor creates politics job

Monday, September 30, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Count Permobil as the latest home medical equipment vendor to acknowledge the need for more political efforts at Medicare and Medicaid. The company announced last month that it had hired Darren Jernigan as its director of government affairs, a first for the manufacturer of high-end rehab products.

Like Pride Mobility Products and the VGM Group, which recently created new executive positions for government relations, Permobil said the threat of competitive bidding was at the top of Jernigan's to-do list. "It's the squeaky wheel. It's demanding a lot of attention," said Barry Steelman, Permobil's marketing manager.

But Permobil's got other plans for Jernigan, plans that Steelman says are peculiar to Permboil. In Florida and Texas, the company has recently run into problems with Medicaid payers who'd declined to fund Permobil products. In Texas, the state has claimed that Permobil is not a "preferred manufacturer."

"What does that mean? We're trying to find that out," said Steelman.

In Florida, Steelman said, at least one provider has learned that the state has singled out Permobil as one specific manufacturer the state will not fund. The reason? Its wheelchairs cost too much.

"So we've seen a real need to educate Medicare, and on the state level Medicaid," said Steelman. "That'll be one of Darren's challenges."

Permobil is getting mileage out of Jernigan. As a quadriplegic who had to go out and find his own funding to obtain a Permobil, the company has featured him in its recent Perception-Reality ad campaign.

Jernigan's political background is wide. He has served as a private consultant on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He's been a candidate for the Tennessee House, an intern at the U.S. Department of State and a Congressional staffer. In 1998, he formed and became president of Access America Consulting, a disability consulting center, dedicated to ensuring the rights of individuals with disabilities.

Jernigan will join Dave Williams (Invacare), Rita Hostak (Sunrise Medical), Martin Szmal (Pride Mobility Products) and John Gallagher (VGM) as part of the burgeoning manufacturer-based team of government affairs experts.

But don't expect results overnight, said Williams, dean of the industry's governmental wonks: "It has to become a cultural thing within the company. Culturally, this is an important function and deserves as much if not more support than many other functional areas." HME