HME providers say…‘Times are tough, what else is new?’

Sunday, August 31, 2003

ATLANTA – Many HME providers may share Vince DeStigter’s pain when he says the past year has been the “hurtingest” in his company’s history.

They may also agree with Carol Laumer, who refuses to take “a doom-and-gloom-going-down-the-tubes attitude.”

Based on these reactions to the HME industry’s ubiquitous, uncontrollable external forces, one could assess provider mood going into the 24th Annual Medtrade as “business as usual, with an eye toward finding pragmatic solutions.” Essentially, the industry remains resilient, determined and inquisitive. Still, DeStigter, president of Jackson, Calif.-based Western Healthcare, said the current climate of HIPAA regulations, proposed seven-year consumer price index freeze and Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement cuts require a sense of urgency from the HME community.

“It’s time we start looking at this from a business perspective – we won’t be able to manage if Congress keeps throwing things at us,” he said. “Coming to Atlanta, we’re looking for a scenario that tells us either ‘We’re here as a unified group trying to change things ’ or ‘We’ll just sit here, take it and go out of business.’ We need to be extremely proactive and call our legislators every day. I’m already doing that.”

While providers and vendors team up to combat outside threats from the political front, Laumer, executive director for Willmar, Minn.-based Rice Home Medical, is looking to build internal business alliances on the show floor as well.

“I’m looking to negotiate arrangements with vendors that will help both of us,” she said. “Ideally, I’d like to be able to extend the 2% discount we get now for payment within 10 days to 30 days. We can evaluate it after six months and decide from there whether it’s working. This is something we haven’t done in the past.”

New technology is a hallmark of Medtrade and show organizers say products are still the primary draw for attendees. Yet the prospect of a seven-year consumer price index freeze has vendors and providers alike looking at how to get the most out of product usage.

“We’ll be looking at technology like gas transfilling systems to drive down our costs,” said Les Defelice, president of Wheeling, W.V.-based DefeliceCare. “[Information technology] is another area that will help us increase communication and productivity while cutting expenses.”

Hammered by Massachusetts Medicaid cuts, Cape Medical Supply is looking for answers at Medtrade rather than shopping for new lines, said President Mark Sheehan.

“We need to get up to speed,” he said. “Although I’m not going this year, I’m sending two, maybe three staff members to get educated. It’s all about information this year.”

Tense as the industry environment may be, Laumer said Medtrade attendees also need to let loose a little and forget their cares – at least temporarily.

“Medtrade is a fun show,” she said. “What’s the point of it all if we can’t laugh along the way?” HME