Association takes on state cuts

Friday, September 30, 2005

WASHINGTON - Rehab technology providers getting hit left and right with state Medicaid cuts have a new friend at the National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology.
As part of an initiative kicked off in late August, NCART appointed industry veteran Matthew Burke as Medicaid project director. His goal: preventing further reimbursement cuts and increasing access to rehab technology, said Sharon Hildebrandt, executive director of NCART.
"Every time we turn around, there's a different state that's trying to change reimbursement for wheelchairs," she said. "We were trying to work on it in a piecemeal fashion, but it just got to be too much. We felt that it was too important not to do something formally about it."
Burke, who joined NCART on Sept. 6., will work with rehab suppliers, state associations, consumer advocates and clinical groups, coordinating efforts to prevent the Medicaid cuts that have grabbed headlines in states like Missouri (See related story on page 20).
While rehab suppliers and state associations have fought these cuts in their respective states all along, NCART's initiative puts those efforts in high gear by widening their reach and providing a big-picture perspective.
"To have NCART focusing on Medicaid issues gives suppliers and all of us state associations a place to go, not only for resources but also, hopefully, for consistency," said Karyn Estrella, executive director of the New England Medical Equipment Dealers Association.
While Missouri is "water under the bridge," NCART has states like New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Indiana on its radar. For example, New Jersey recently implemented a recycling program for wheelchairs that has possible safety and warranty implications, Hildebrandt said.
With states increasingly strapped for cash, and Medicaid vying with education as the biggest ticket item on their budgets, NCART and Burke are likely to have a full plate. "We have no idea what other cuts are coming down the pike," Estrella said. "There's a storm brewing."
Burke is a former board member of NEMED and a former chairman of AAHomecare's Rehab Assistive Technology Council.
"They have the best person for the job," Estrella said of Burke. "He has the experience and as stressful as things get, he never loses his cool. It's a great marriage."