Don Quixote?

Saturday, January 31, 2004

I own and operate a small rehab based medical equipment company that provides a wide range of mobility equipment, including lightweight, ultralightweight, manual tilt-in-space and power wheelchairs. I didn’t decide to provide powered mobility based on some sinister motive, or greed factor, rather a more basic reason - there was an unmet need in the communities I served. As a result, I have built a respectable business servicing three communities in two states. I was on the verge of being rewarded, or so I thought.

Meanwhile, in a place far, far away, some people were engaging in nationwide marketing activities on TV. When I first saw the ads, I thought to myself: ‘No big deal. Medicare will see these ads and stop these people.’ When one of these companies’ patients limped into my office, looking for a portable ramp to transport his new power chair in his van, I called Medicare. Nothing happened.

Finally something did happen. In Harris County, Texas, slime masquerading as wheelchair suppliers oozed up from the gutter and drove a truck through the hole that Medicare had left open, spewing their foul stench upon the rest of us. As a result, we’re all being treated like slime because of the predictable backlash resulting from the actions of a few. Unfortunately, this knee jerk reaction will in all likelihood have serious negative effects, including insolvency, on many of us who tried to do the right thing in the first place. We tried to warn them, and now we’re going to pay the price because they didn’t listen.

Many honest suppliers, including myself, are now faced with the real possibility that their business will not survive because Medicare lacked the testicular fortitude to address the problem at the source. Our story will never wind up in the mainstream media like the day of the power wheelchair scandals. Sadly, there’s not a damn thing we can do about any of it by ourselves. We are too small and insignificant to effect any meaningful change in this politically motivated cesspool. We need a champion. Where are you Don Quixote, Congress, AARP, AMA, AP, UPI… anybody?

- Scott Scobey is president of Low Country Mobility in Beaufort, S.C.
Dear Chairman Thomas:
As you know, our industry is reimbursed for the cost of home medical equipment and respiratory medications, but is not reimbursed for the many services that must be provided to our customers to insure a high quality of care.  These include the delivery, set up, and instruction of home medical equipment by technicians, the periodic evaluation and follow up by respiratory therapists, and the availability of these technicians and respiratory therapists on a 24/7/365 basis...

The home medical equipment provider community is comprised of a small number of publicly traded companies, a small number of privately held regional companies, and several thousand smaller organizations.  This infrastructure is the key to holding down healthcare costs in the coming years...

As we near the end of this decade the combination of earlier diagnoses and a rising percentage of elderly consumers will dramatically increase the utilization of healthcare services.  The value provided by the homecare industry compared to institutional care is crucial to containing these costs. 

-  Leslie P. DeFelice is president and CEO of DeFeliceCare, Inc. in Wheeling, WV