Doc to providers: It's time to think big

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

America's obesity epidemic was front and center during healthcare reform talks. It's one of the biggest drivers of healthcare costs, but until now, doctors didn't get paid to treat it, says Dr. Kevin Huffman, a bariatric specialist who recently became a consultant to Gendron, Inc. He spoke with HME News recently about how healthcare reform–and HME providers–will help these patients.

HME News: Just how many obese Americans are there?

Dr. Kevin Huffman: Between 1980 and 2000 we saw a doubling of adult obesity and a tripling of childhood obesity. There are now 100 million obese Americans–20 million who are morbidly obese.

HME: How will healthcare reform pave the way to treat these folks?

Huffman: Up until now if the physician put down obesity as a diagnosis, he wouldn't get reimbursed. As healthcare reform gets rolled out, Medicare will cover preventive care and management of obesity is considered preventative care. Not only Medicare, but private insurers will encourage them to treat it and get reimbursed for it.

HME: What's the trickle down to HME?

Huffman: I think we'll see a fairly significant rise in the need for bariatric DME. As these patients come into the healthcare system, the physicians will talk to them about their needs. They'll ask: "What goes on at home?" "How do you sleep?" "What kind of mobility issues do you have?"

HME: Are manufacturers developing high-quality bariatric equipment?

Huffman: In the old days, bariatric equipment was just bigger equipment. What we realize now, it's not just bigger, the wheelchair needs to be wider and deeper. We have beds now that go down to a few inches off the ground. There's a lot of good equipment out there now that's not being used, but insurance doesn't cover it and physicians aren't (familiar) with it. They are way behind.

HME: Who are the referral sources for these patients?

Huffman: In the past, primary care physicians would say, "I don't do bariatrics." Now that they are going to be reimbursed, the HME folks need to go out again to those physicians and say, "Now that things are changing with healthcare reform, I want to educate you on our equipment." They should also target the bariatric centers and care facilities that specialize in bariatrics. What's happening when those patients go home? They come in for bariatric surgery and have the bariatric hospital bed, wheelchair and hygienic equipment. They still need that equipment when they go home.