LAS VEGAS - As the industry prepared for competitive bidding, thousands of providers flocked to Medtrade Spring last week, hungry for information and looking for deals.
"We're here to learn as much as we can about NCB," said Les DeFelice, president of DeFelice Care in Wheeling, W. V., who brought along five employees.
Liz Sommerville, group show director, attributed a surge in attendance to this year's education sessions.
"We're beating every attendance record," said Sommerville. "We've got buyers here and we couldn't be happier."
Final attendance numbers were not available. However, as of mid-February, pre-registrations were 85% ahead of last year. At that time, Sommerville said she expected overall attendance this year to jump 25%. Additionally, this year's exhibit space increased 6% to a record 100,000 square feet.
Not only were attendees buying, but many were looking to add products outside their traditional offerings, said several manufacturers.
"We're seeing a lot of providers interested in power mobility for the first time," said Barry Steelman, marketing manager for Permobil. "They're interested in expanding their businesses."
Fred Leder, vice president of business development for Sun Capitol, said reimbursement cuts were driving traffic to his booth.
"They're looking for ways to increase the top line," said Leder. "The only way is to have some other product to sell."
Manufacturers did their best to assure providers that they are sympathetic to the pressures they face.
"The price of batteries is going up and reimbursement is going down," said Larry Meeks, product marketing manager for Interstate Battery. "We're trying to encourage them to look at the value we offer."
Industry leaders continued ringing the bell to repeal NCB and stave off a proposed 13-month oxygen cap. But, they stressed, a fresh approach is also needed. It's no longer enough just to show the value of homecare.
One Michigan provider at the meeting pledged to do his part.
"I'm going to give $5,000 to (AAHomecare's political action committee)," he said. "Money gives us access. That's the way the game is played."