HQAA surfaces as accreditation looms

Thursday, June 30, 2005

WATERLOO, Iowa -- A new accrediting body hung its shingle at the VGM Group's Heartland Conference early last month, billing itself as a cheaper, paperless alternative to the industry's current stalwarts.
VGM lauched the new entity, called the Healthcare Quality Association on Accreditation, with a $500,000 investment. But the organization was established as a separate, non-profit entity that will operate out of its own office in downtown Waterloo.
While many in the industry welcomed the Medicare Modernization Act's requirement that all HME suppliers become accredited, as many did not, fearing the sometimes daunting expense of accreditation and the hassles of preparation.
VGM, touting the new body's emphasis on paperless systems, called the introduction of HQAA a "paradigm shift."
"The cost of this accreditation is going to be significantly less expensive than what's out there," said VGM Management President Jim Walsh.
While HQAA's rivals may not welcome pricing pressures, JCAHO, CHAP and ACHC will not begrudge another entity in the marketplace. The currently active accrediting bodies could never handle all the work thrown up by the MMA, said ACHC President Tom Cesar.
"We employ 14 people right now, and we're recrtuiting five more," said Cesar. "We've got 75 surveyors, and we're going to move thay up over 100 very rapidly. We're adding 4,000 square-feet of office space."
But even with these additions, and the subtraction of a great number of HME suppliers who Cesar believes will be casualties of the competitive bidding prrocess, he can't imagine how the exisiting accreditation organizations will manage to get everyone ready for 2007.
The industry's largest accrediting body, JCAHO, said last month that it currently accredits 1,400 home medical equipment supply companies, representing 4,300 locations. ACHC has accredited 182 HME supplier companies, representing 482 locations. CHAP has accredited about 1,000 HME supplier locations.
Meanwhile, the National Supplier Clearinghouse has granted supplier numbers to 23,000 locations that identify their business as home medical equipment suppliers and 50,000 locations that identify as pharmacies.
This means that cumulatively, JCAHO, CHAP and ACHC are now accrediting fewer than 25% of the suppliers who identify as HMEs, never mind the significant numbers of pharmacies that provide durable medical equipment.
"I am not here to compete but to complete," said Mary Nicholas, the executive director of the HQAA.
Though CMS has yet to release the guidelines for the new quality standards or an RFP to accrediting bodies, HQAA has written HME-specific standards that Nicholas is confident will pass muster at CMS.
HQAA has designed its system to function paperlessly, via e-mail and the Internet.
A paperless system, said Cesar, is the way to go. ACHC has hired an IT person, and he said his company would offer a paperless alternative by the end of the year. JCAHO already offers a paperless alternative.
The new accrediting entity also hopes to remove some of the fear of accreditation by providing access to on-line coaches, who will help an HME supplier prepare for a survey.
HQAA is building a board of directors that so far includes Joan Cross, a former FAMES president, and John Gallagher, VGM's vice president of government relations.