Medical Mart shuts down: 'We have mixed emotions'

Thursday, January 13, 2011

ROCK HILL, S.C. - This isn't how Bob Luftin wanted to leave the HME industry.

Luftin, who owned Medical Mart with his wife Betty, closed his doors on Dec. 31 amidst what he calls an "imperfect storm of things," including national competitive bidding for HME and healthcare reform. He was in business for more than 23 years.

"We have mixed emotions," said Luftin in December. "We've had a blast serving our customers, but we can't furnish the same level of services to them anymore, not with everything going on. Our customers are sad that we're leaving, but they understand."

Medical Mart supplied traditional HME like hospital beds, wheelchairs and oxygen concentrators, but it created a niche for itself, Luftin says, by also supplying less common equipment like mastectomy products, back braces and nursing uniforms.

Luftin was in as good a position as any to withstand competitive bidding and healthcare reform. In addition to having a diverse product mix, Medical Mart's business was 92% cash.

"They've been talking about competitive bidding and getting to one fee schedule since 1996," said Luftin, who has been involved with his state association and various Medicare and Medicaid advisory committees over the years. "So I started doing cash a long time ago, and I told other providers they should start doing cash, too."

But because Medical Mart still billed Medicare non-assigned, allowing customers to recoup 80% of the allowables, competitive bidding was a blow just the same for Luftin, who is in the Charlotte, N.C., competitive bidding area but he doesn't have a contract.

"We can't even file for walkers," he said.

Add to that: The cost for Medical Mart to insure its five employees, including Luftin and Betty, has tripled in two years, something Luftin credits to healthcare reform.

"We used to pay 100%, with a $250 deductible, a $10 prescription card and a $10 office visit card," Luftin said. "Before closing, we had a $5,000 deductible."

Of course, Luftin's age also has something to do with his decision to leave the HME industry: At 79 years old, he and Betty look forward to being retired but not to being inactive.

"We're both competitive downhill skiers," he said.