Bariatric bed business is booming

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

With an American obesity rate projected to reach 40% by 2005, the bariatric niche market is expanding nearly as fast as waistlines, manufacturers say.

Belleville, Ill.-based Roho reports sales of bariatric bedding products are climbing 15% per year. “It’s definitely an emerging market,” said Greg Garland, Roho vice president of wound care sales.

Bariatric bed frames and support surfaces are now being reinforced to handle up to 1,000-pound patients. “We have a lot of patients in the 600-pound range and 400-pound patients are very common,” one vendor said.

Providers have been slow to embrace the bariatric niche for a couple reasons, Garland said – heavy-duty equipment poses logistical challenges and manufacturers weren’t making many products for obese patients.

“Bariatric frames are more difficult to service than conventional frames,” he said. “It is a cumbersome task to get a frame that is 48 inches wide through a doorway. It can also be more costly, requiring a bigger van and two delivery people.”

Finicky Medicare coverage and reimbursement has also served as a bariatric barrier for providers, manufacturers say.

“Reimbursement has been an issue,” Garland said. “Concentrators and other equipment have been more lucrative. But Medicare has recognized bariatrics as an underserved market, issuing codes for heavy-duty frames, mattresses and commodes. Now manufacturers are jumping on the bariatric bandwagon.”

Burke Tri-Flex has been building bariatric beds since the Big Boy Bed in 1982. President Duwayne Kramer says the market has been drawn “out of the closet” by the swell of obese patients. Moreover, the home care market is seeing more bariatric patients because they are being moved out of nursing homes, he said.