Brits show up U.S. oxygen efforts

Sunday, July 31, 2005

LONDON -- British officials plan to invest in high-end home-oxygen technology as a way to reduce expensive hospital stays and emergency room visits. Now if only their U.S. counterparts, who can't seem to cut HME reimbursement often enough, would also see the light, say industry sources.
"To invest in technology that they believe can keep people out of these high cost areas is wise," said Vernon Pertelle, Apria's national respiratory manager.
In June, England's health minister, Jane Kennedy, announced a comprehensive plan to improve home oxygen services for the country's 60,000 patients who receive the service.
The new improvements to the service will include the latest equipment, including lighter weight cylinders, smaller, more efficient concentrators, liquid oxygen and portable systems that support greater mobility and independence. Patients will also be provided with round-the-clock access to expert support.
For years, HME leaders in the United States have touted home medical equipment and homecare as the least costly alternative in the healthcare system. By keeping beneficiaries healthy and at home (as the Brits seem to believe), Medicare would be able to save money by reducing hospital stays and emergency room visits. That makes intuitive sense, but the industry has never been able to bolster its contention with data that quantifies those savings. Some, like former CMS Administrator Bruce Vladeck, doubt those savings exist.
In England, the country's socialized healthcare system and its increasing costs are probably driving the desire to invest more in preventative care.
"You would think the same would apply here," said Joe Lewarski, vice president of clinical and government affairs for Inogen, "Putting more money into wellness and outpatient care and other points of care that are less costly seems to be a more logical approach.
Michael Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in April called homecare "radically more efficient" and patient preferred. Unfortunately,the departments reporting to him "don't get it," said one industry source.
With competitive bidding coming down the pike and numerous reimbursement cuts to HME implemented over the past year, a sea change doesn't appear imminent.
"They still want to focus on cutting when they should be investing more dollars," Pertelle said.