Invacare drafts Lewarski to fill key role

Friday, August 31, 2007

Joe Lewarski's the hometown boy who grew up to play for the local big league team. Or at least that's what it feels like to Invacare's new vice president, respiratory products group. "To land a high-level job at an industry leader that is coincidently in my backyard (Cleveland), the moon and the stars had to line up a little bit," Lewarski said in late July, a week or so after he joined Invacare in nearby Elyria. "Nearly every job like this would require some relocation." A respected respiratory clinician, provider, manufacturer and regular industry speaker, Lewarski's resume reads like that of someone you'd expect to take over a key position at the industry's largest company during a period of unprecedented change. Here's what he had to say recently about his new position and the state of the industry.
HME News: You taking on a high-level position at Invacare reminds me of when, a number of years ago, Jim Liken, another well-respected provider, went to work at Respironics as CEO.
Joe Lewarski: One of the things that is helpful in making the transition from provider to manufacturer is recognizing what really happens in an HME company. How do we buy? How do we stock? How do we inventory? How do we dispense? What goes out on a truck? What happens when you go in a patient's home? What happens at 3 a.m. when the patient calls in? It is important to understand and respect all that. It is a very unique industry, and I think that is maybe one thing Liken brought to Respironics. From outsiders looking into the HME industry, a lot of times I think it is oversimplified. And sometimes it doesn't get the respect of its own industry folks for the complexities and difficulties associated with it.
HME: What do providers want from a manufacturer? What did you want when you were a provider?
Lewarski: I wanted good products, good pricing. I wanted value. I wanted responsiveness, support and a lot of respect and appreciation for what I do.
HME: How do manufacturers show that respect?
Lewarski: It's a combination of things. It's introducing products with pricing schemes and purchasing and financing packages that understand the reimbursement, cash flow and HCPCS coding and all the challenges that providers face. Having a great product is only one piece of having success in this industry. The other piece is working alongside us as a stakeholder to fight for the coding and the reimbursement and patient issues that go into this.
HME: Will Invacare's respiratory group look different in a year or two?
Lewarski: I hope so. We'll continue expanding in the oxygen space. Invacare is the leader right now and the goal is to remain the leader and determine what that means in three or five years. We'll continue to look at aerosol therapy and see what opportunities exist and what we can do to grow. Sleep is an area that we haven't had as much success in as in other respiratory areas, and we'll continue to look very closely at that and hopefully be presenting some ideas and technology in the near term. Beyond that, we're going to investigate.
HME: The home respiratory market's transitioning through a period of declining reimbursement. Where do you see the market going, and, in particular, do you see products like Invacare's HomeFill and portable oxygen concentrators playing a bigger role?
Lewarski: I have to believe they will. The reality is that in Medicare and in other businesses, technology is a component of the solution. If you can do something better, faster and with equal or better outcomes, it seems logical that you would want to move in that direction. Having been a large provider, I understand the challenges that go with changing your business model. It's not easy to turn a battleship. One of the things I use to tell my homecare people is that home care is not going away. It can't go away. It's the best solution. We're going to be in business in 10 years; it just might not look exactly like it does today.
HME: Do you see a day when Medicare beneficiaries will have to pick up a greater percentage of the cost of HME services?
Lewarski: I think that is true across the healthcare continuum. This issue is not confined to home medical equipment. On the private side, most of us are already experiencing much higher contributions out of pocket toward our health insurance. This is going to have to spill over into the federal and state programs. There will have to be some change in this robust entitlement to save it. That's why I think the consumer role will continue to play into this.