Mobility providers 'co-exist' with bid program
Mobility providers have had more than their share of fiscal challenges in the marketplace with competitive bidding and stringent reimbursement qualifications. Yet opportunities still exist for manual and scooters for providers with the right business plan, mobility specialists say.
No doubt, the market has had the formidable task of adjusting to competitive bidding, which Lawrence de la Haba, senior vice president of business development for Atlanta-based Graham-Field Health Products, calls “a race to the bottom on acquisition cost.”
The majority of wheelchairs supplied via the Medicare and Medicaid programs are now manufactured outside of the United States, he said, and the result has been “the lowest acceptable quality, delivered with a minimum of HME provider activity.” He insists that “it is not a reflection of the providers’ desire to serve customers; it is the result of a system that has placed the entire focus on providing beneficiaries with a product at the lowest cost.”
The demographics all point to a greater volume of wheelchairs being required, de la Haba said, so “the potential to provide more wheelchairs is there.”
Despite the competitive bidding and reimbursement challenges, there are multiple avenues to explore for sales, says Edward Casillas, sales manager for Karman Healthcare in City of Industry, Calif.
“Knowledgeable and experienced providers have learned to co-exist with competitive bidding and find new opportunities in retail sales, an online store, alternative insurance and distribution to facilities,” he said.
Information technology tools, such as a tablet or desktop computer, should be used daily to facilitate effective mobility product sales, Casillas said.
“Staff should have access to the manufacturer’s website to show end users images of an item that may be out of stock, or for comparison purposes,” he said. “Individuals on the sales floor should be well versed on the general models and accessories of the various lines they may be offering.”
Casillas recommends providers offer users a “good, better, best” purchase option, so that patients have a choice in quality, he said.
If Medicare simply stopped paying for products costing less than $500, de la Haba says, patients would actually have to make a choice, creating a more competitive category.
“If patient choice was re-introduced to the mix, quality and service might begin to allow for greater competition as customers would be paying attention to the products available,” he said. “Unlike a consumer product, many beneficiaries simply don’t have the time, knowledge or physical capacity to go out and purchase their medical equipment. It is a need, rather than a want for most people.”
Because Medicare or Medicaid coverage for scooters is scarce, they have become a retail source for mobility providers and demand continues to grow with the aging boomer population, says John Wright, executive vice president of sales management and business development for Carson, Calif.-based Shoprider Mobility Products.
Yet educating patients and their families about the stringent Medicare coverage criteria and physician documentation requirements has been a challenge, Wright concedes.
“Physicians and their staff are reluctant to spend the time preparing the necessary documentation and patients have a difficult time realizing that they may not receive a scooter through the Medicare process,” he said. “Providers need to explain the situation and spell out patients’ options to them.”
Even so, conditions are ripe for the retail scooter market to grow, said Brandon Sykes, product manager of power and manual wheelchairs for Port Washington, N.Y.-based Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare.
“Consumers are looking for features above and beyond what a reimbursed scooter may offer,” he said. “We find that consumers are willing to pay a little more out of pocket for scooters with convenience options, such as a headlight, additional charge ports, carry bags and larger front baskets, over basic scooters that do not have these features.”
Planning to plan
For both manual wheelchairs and scooters, upselling is an effective method of increasing revenues and it starts with a plan, said Dave Jones, regional vice president of power mobility sales for Drive DeVilbiss.
“Providers need to be able to question skillfully and analyze needs, as this is the opportunity to determine what other services you can provide in addition to the mobility equipment,” he said. “Scripted questioning can assist you in discovering additional sales opportunities. Insurance benefits pay for basic medical needs only—however, our clients still have choices. Give them the respect to exercise their choices. Engage your customers in the solutions by explaining their options.”
A companion item sales program is essential for keeping customers happier, spending less time in crisis intervention and spending less time on the road, he said.
“You can accomplish these goals if you make the best use of your sales time, create your sales objectives, develop a plan to meet your objectives, manage your calls effectively, track your efforts and utilize reporting details for future planning,” Jones said.