Gas giant looks to sell HME unit, sources say

Thursday, June 30, 2005

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Industrial gas giant Air Liquide appears ready to exit the U.S. home medical equipment market -- at least for the time being. Industry sources say Apria will acquire the multi-billion dollar company's HME unit, VitalAire Homecare, pending clearance by due diligence. Air Liquide entered the U.S. HME market in 1998 when it bought InHome Medical for an estimated $18 million. At the time, InHome operated 22 locations in north Florida and one each in Georgia and South Carolina. Air Liquide renamed the company VitalAire Homecare. Since then, Air Liquide has done little if anything to expand VitalAire, sources say. Apria and VitalAire officials declined to comment for this story. Some industry watchers speculate that Air Liquide, by selling its existing HME holdings, is laying the groundwork for a bigger, more aggressive move into the U.S. HME market. "They could make a huge play and buy anyone -- Lincare, Rotech or Apria," said one source. "But until they decide if they are going to be in HME in a big way or no-way, they are in no-man's land, and probably said, 'Let's get this off our back.'"