Manufacturers try to police industry with rehab guidelines

Monday, March 31, 2003

YARMOUTH, Maine - Seating and mobility manufacturers are doing what they can to police an industry that is becoming overwhelmed with unqualified dealers by initiating guidelines and setting standards dealers must meet in order to sell their products.

Currently there are no regulations in place stopping anyone from selling equipment, such as power wheelchairs. But manufacturers of rehab equipment are making it more difficult for untrained companies to sell their products by setting regulations to protect themselves from losing business and to protect consumers from getting the wrong equipment.

Most industry leaders applaud the efforts, but the question lies on how these guidelines can be enforced if they are not mandated by any states.

“The guidelines are not mandated, true, but they are enforceable,” said Scott Higley, vice president of sales for Quantum Rehab, which issues set standards to prospective dealers. “We’re a private company and we can set up who we do business with. We want to protect the provider and the consumer. No one wins if the guidelines aren’t met.”

Higley said Quantum relies on sales people to monitor the guidelines. Providers are selected, he said, through the sales force, so they are already pre-qualified and meet standards such as having an experienced rehab professional at each location and giving individual evaluations of each client.

Darren Jernigan, director of government affairs at Permobil, Inc., said the Tennessee-based rehab manufacturers gave its suppliers one year to meet their standards when they released a new set of guidelines in 2002. By March 2004, dealers of Permobil products must comply with standards such as having an RTS or ATS on staff and offering service for all products sold.

Permobil eventually will require a CRTS, ATS, or ATP to sign off on orders before chairs are shipped, Jernigan said. “If a (beneficiary) is using our chair, it will be the most appropriate device for that person,” he said.

Hymie Pogir, Invacare Corporation’s vice president of marketing of power wheelchairs, said, “These products really require skill. If you have people without skills (trying to sell these products) the percentage of failure becomes significant.”

Invacare offers two-day seminars on its products, which consist of an educational class that providers send their key personnel to attend. A provider must pass a test to sell Invacare products. “If you’re not on the list, we won’t supply to you,” Pogir said.

While many high-end providers see these guidelines and seminars as a step in the right direction, industry leaders are continuing to push stricter regulations, hoping to weed out the number of questionable dealers who offer low prices and poor service.

Until stricter regulations are in place, there’s another way to weed out shoddy providers: Report them to the closest United States Attorney’s office or regional Medicaid Fraud unit along with any evidence discovered, sources say. HME