Larry Higby: Political operative turned CEO

Sunday, October 31, 2004

If anyone in the home medical equipment industry knows the identity of “Deep Throat”, the inside source that brought down the Nixon White House, it’s Larry Higby. Long before he joined Apria as COO in 1997 (he became CEO in 2001), Higby served as H.R. Haldeman’s assistant. Haldeman, of course, served as Nixon’s chief of staff and eventually served 18 months in prison for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury in the Watergate cover-up.

Deep Throat once referred to Higby as a “young-punk nobody who does what he is told to do.” The Nixon White House also referred to a particularly effective administrative assistant as “a higby” because the future Apria CEO had earned such a shining reputation for efficiency. Higby’s “higby” legacy is the one he brings to the HME industry.

Whether he’s guiding AAHomecare’s lobbying efforts or making his own visits to Capitol Hill, Higby plays a highly visible and influential role in the industry’s efforts to stave off reimbursement cuts. If a big check needs to be written to further an industry cause, Higby writes it. If AAHomecare lacks expertise in a particular area, Higby provides it from Apria’s pool of human resources.

As a businessman, Higby led the industry’s charge in the late 1990s to dump unprofitable managed care contracts and to upgrade front and back end operations. Now, as Medicare moves to implement deep cuts to home oxygen services and respiratory drugs, his decision to offer a diversified product mix appears smarter than ever. Under Higby, Apria didn’t fall head over heels in love with home oxygen therapy and dump the majority of other HME products, as did Lincare and legions of providers.

Don’t be surprised if providers who put all their eggs in the highly lucrative Medicare-oxygen basket rethink that strategy and begin to emulate components of Apria’s business mix.

Some have speculated that a slim chance exists that Higby may be Deep Throat. We may never know that. What we do know is that his influence on the HME industry is no secret.