MMA drives accreditation traffic

Friday, April 30, 2004

WASHINGTON - While the industry waits for the Department of Health and Human Services to formulate a new set of supplier standards, or to convene a committee of “relevant parties” to begin the process, HME providers are lining up at the gates of the industry’s three principal accrediting organizations.

JCAHO’s inquiries and applications for HME accreditation have jumped 50% over the first quarter last year. At ACHC, the organization has 46 new applications from HMEs, the highest number ever at one time, and is moving 100 HME companies through the accreditation process now.

If HHS develops a new set of supplier standards that mirror the rigorous standards currently in practice by the industry’s accreditors, the lines at the gate may well turn into a rush.

“If [accreditation] is required for every HME, there’s going to be a deluge,” said Harriet Olson, director of operations at CHAP. “It will be very difficult for the three of us to deal with that large number.”

That trepidation is fueled by a scarcity of information. The Medicare Modernization Act calls for new standards and for one or more “recognized independent accreditation organizations” to act as gatekeeper, but whether that means every HME supplier must go through the same sort of survey that suppliers endure today is unclear.

“That’s a critical question,” said MaryAnn Popovich, executive director of JCAHO’s home care accreditation program.

Popovich, like many suppliers, wonders too whether specialty suppliers who do just diabetes or just medical supplies will also have to meet the new standards. She also wonders whether all suppliers will have to ramp up at the same time, or whether HHS will phase in the new standards.

“It’s conceivable that [meeting the new standards] may only be required of the metropolitan areas phased in for competitive bidding first and the rest of the country later,” she said.

An accreditation summit meeting at Medtrade Spring in March drew about 200 concerned attendees. Tom Cesar, president of ACHC, expects to draw at least twice as many at Medtrade in Atlanta.

An HME News survey last year found that roughly half of the HME industry is opposed to mandatory accreditation, which suggests that many suppliers have stepped into a begrudging march toward the accreditation organizations.

“We keep telling folks, ‘Don’t look at it from a negative perspective. This is going to help your business,” said Cesar.