The Good News Gazette

Thursday, May 31, 2007

I took up the challenge this month. After writing about nothing (or so it seems) but bad news and industry challenges for I don't know how long, I decided to go out and find some good news.
Just think, ever since President Bush signed the Medicare Prescription Drug Act into law in December 2003, the HME industry has been under siege. The giant lead headline in our January 2004 issue, which covered the drug act in detail, screamed: "This is terrible."
And it was. The bill called for national competitive bidding, a CPI freeze, a dramatic reduction in reimbursement for respiratory drugs and cuts to the Medicare fee schedule based on prices set by the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP). Since then, other legislation and regulatory changes have capped oxygen reimbursement at 36 months and totally revamped the power wheelchair benefit.
If you're feeling a little punch drunk, it's for good reason.
Despite all those changes, most providers continue to push ahead. I'm a little surprised. Given the scope of the changes, I expected to see more fallout, more providers going out of business. Maybe that will happen as competitive bidding picks up steam, but so far so good and good for you.
Once again, HME providers have proved a resilient group. In my mind, I picture of a bunch of CMS bureaucrats sitting in their ivory tower and scratching their heads: "We've thrown almost everything we can think of at them and still they keep going." If nothing else, I hope the bureaucrats have developed a grudging respect for the industry's pluck.
If you check out the story on page 6 ("Who says there's no good news?"), you'll see other reasons to take heart: The market for home medical equipment is big and getting bigger; mandatory accreditation will level the playing field and help weed out bad apples; technology now allows providers to do more with less.
Don't expect HME News to morph into the Good News Gazette, we're way too cranky over here for that, especially Managing Editor Liz Beaulieu. But sometimes it's good to take stock, to realize that despite tremendous challenges, providers have pushed ahead. Ponder that--but not for too long. There's still plenty of work to do.