Crosses close chapter

Thursday, August 20, 2009

BRADENTON, Fla. – After 23 years in business, Joan Cross closed the doors on C&C Homecare, the HME company she owned with her husband, Alan Cross, earlier this year. It wasn’t an easy decision—“This is all I’ve ever done,” she says—but reimbursement cuts left her little choice. Cross realizes she’s luckier than most other struggling independent providers. A well-known name in the industry, she’ s now focusing on consulting and reviving the Florida Association of Medical Equipment Services (FAMES). But she hasn’t forgotten about the scores of providers out there still trying to make ends meet. “I think about them every day,” she says. “It’s a shame, because I know how hard they work.” Here’s what else Cross had to say, including what finally did C&C in and why all hope is not lost.

HME News: First, give me a picture of C&C Homecare before it closed.

Joan Cross: We had about 350 patients. CPAP was our biggest product—about 50% of our business. We had five employees.

HME: How many oxygen patients did you have? Was the cap a big reason you decided to close?

Cross: We had about 90 oxygen patients. About one-third of them capped on Jan. 1. It was significant on paper. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was losing our contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

HME: What happened?

Cross: There were no complaints filed against us or anything. They just decided to scale back the number of providers they use, and for the most part, they went with bigger providers. That was about 33% to 35% of our business.

HME: Providers are continually told to diversify their payer mix away from Medicare. That’s what you did, and you got burned.

Cross: Exactly. We got the contract and we started taking care of patients and then they said, “We don’t want you anymore.”

HME: Why didn’t you try to find a buyer for C&C?

Cross: We could have held out and tried to find a buyer, but no one is buying companies for any amount of money these days. Selling a company is a lot of work, and it wasn’t worth the time and effort. We wanted to move on. We ended up selling our assets to another provider and, for the most part, our patients went to that provider, too.

HME: So is all hope lost for the HME industry?

Cross: I think this industry is going to be severely tested, but some HME companies will make it through. I was talking to a provider the other day that hadn’t taken a paycheck in a couple of weeks. That’s what you do. You pay your vendors first, then your employees and if there’s anything left, you pay yourself. So he’s just out there trying to sell up a storm to make up for all the cuts.

HME: That’s just not how you wanted to live your life anymore?

Cross: No. We’re too exhausted. We went to work tired and we came home tired. Life’s too short.