'HME education of America'

Friday, March 22, 2013

I would consider this a logical argument: 1.) Our population is aging. 2.) That population would prefer to stay in the home as long as possible. 3.) Because of this, the demand for home medical equipment will increase. 4.) And because of that, home medical equipment will be a healthy business for years to come.

If only things were that simple.

As the HME industry contemplates a 45% reduction in reimbursement, on average, in 91 cities as part of Round 2 of competitive bidding, it’s more difficult than ever to see how 1+2+3=4. It’s more like 1+2+3=?.

I talked to Lawrence de la Haba recently. He’s the senior vice president of business development at GF Health Products. He says it doesn’t help that the industry has a public awareness problem, and I think he’s right.

Who knows what HME is, outside of our little industry?

de la Haba says Medicare doesn’t even know what HME is, if it thinks it can competitively bid oxygen concentrators like the military does jet aircrafts.

Then much of what lawmakers and the general population know about HME comes from the dizzying stream of stories in the mainstream media about Medicare fraud and abuse, and lately, reality-show-like FBI raids.

“This is what’s high visibility and what gives the industry a bad name,” he said. “But when Mom or Dad are at home on oxygen and resting comfortably—no one writes about that. You don’t see that on the 10 o’clock news. To me, that’s what home care is about.”

It’s true. I know there are huge inroads being made to raise public awareness of HME by national and state industry associations, and by groups like People For Quality Care, but there needs to be more.

Anna McDevitt, president of Laboratory Marketing, wants to join the fray. She wrote to me in an email recently:

“I’m starting to feel strongly that we need to be telling our story outside of our own circles and start focusing on the HME education of America. What is HME? What does it mean to you? How are these services affected by legislation? These are basics that voting Americans should understand and I’m starting to feel like the only way for this industry to survive is to start telling our story a little louder.”

At the end of the day, 1+2+3 has to = something. It’s just that no one knows what that something is right now.

And in some ways, that means the industry can make it whatever it wants it to be.