Gas giant prepares to sell HME unit to Apria, sources say

Sunday, June 19, 2005

aCOSTA 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, provided due diligence works out.

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.

Since then, Air Liquide has done little if anything to expand VitalAire, sources say.

Apria declined to comment for this story. A VitalAire official on Friday said the company had not been sold and beyond that had no comment.

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.'"