This masquerade

Friday, October 31, 2003

One of my most enduring memories of this year’s Medtrade occurred while I was logging booth duty. It’s enduring because it says so much about what needs to be fixed if the industry intends to be seen as more than a collection of equipment jockeys by the powers that be.

After meadering up aisle 700, gazing at all the shiny equipment and snazzy booths, a duo of HME wannabes pulled into the HME News booth. They wanted to subscribe to the publication, and after doing so asked me what I knew about all this Wheeler Dealer stuff. I told them.

Then I asked them if they thought mandatory accreditation would reduce HME fraud and abuse. They didn’t have an opinion. That’s when I discovered they knew virtually nothing about the home medical equipment industry - except that they wanted to be HMEs. What else: They liked the demographics and had related experience, they said, selling hearing aids. Okey dokey, I said to myself.

They planned to offer rehab and home respiratory therapy. Did they plan to hire a respiratory therapist? No. It’s just going to be the two of us at first, one of the guys said.

They had hired a billing company (they wanted to get paid, of course), but otherwise they seemed as qualified to open an HME as they did an auto body repair shop. That is, completely unqualified.

When it comes to making the case that HMEs are legitimate healthcare providers, industry leaders, alone or working with federal lawmakers, need to start by creating more barriers to entry. Licensure. Accreditation. Surety bonds. Whatever.Tackle this issue with the same fervor devoted to defeating a proposed Medicare reimbursement cut.

The industry doesn’t need anymore hearing-aid salesmen who want to be equipment jockeys.