National competitive bidding's silver lining

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS--Wheelchair provider Ron Reed has national competitive bidding to thank for his new and improved business, he says.

The program, now delayed, pushed Reed, a non-contract provider, to mix up his product and payer mix, and ramp up his marketing efforts. The result: a 30% bump in sales so far this year, he says.

“Before competitive bidding, we were stuck doing the same things, day in and day out,” said Reed, owner and CEO of Benchmark Mobility in Indianapolis. “Competitive bidding forced us to evaluate our company and, actually, make it more into something we wanted it to be.”

Even though Indianapolis wasn’t included in Round 1, the Cincinnati competitive bidding area included a small part of Indiana. About 5% of Reed’s business was affected.

For the past year, Reed has added a slew of new products, most of them sold for cold, hard cash: lifts, ramps, private-label adjustable beds, scrubs and stethoscopes, and even generators.
“Our patients were asking us for them,” Reed said. “Because of the floods, we had a lot of power outages, and some patients with medical needs can’t live without a refrigerator.”

Reed has also chased non-Medicare payers, including big-name insurers like United Healthcare.

“They thought we were just equipment jockeys, but not anymore,” Reed said. “They have a diabetic program, but they don’t have someone to work with the counselors to make sure, for example, that the pressure for a cushion is rated right. That’s where we come in.”

Due to the shift in his product and payer mix, Reed has decreased his dependence on Medicare to about 22% of his business, making competitive bidding a receding concern.

Reed’s latest attempts to ramp up marketing efforts include visits with graduating PT, OT and nursing students at four local universities, where he conducted product presentations.

“We thought we’d be there for an hour, but we ended up staying for two-and-a-half hours-they’re like sponges,” Reed said. “We gave them tchotchkes with our company name, and we’ve already gotten a few calls.”