New Year mysteries

Monday, December 31, 2001

At the end of the year, there are a lot of things afoot in the HME industry, or on its margins, that I just don't understand. To wit...

IBOT. Aka the stair-climbing wheelchair. J & J has spent $150 million developing technology that enables a power wheelchair to climb up stairs, power over curbs and maneuver off road. That's $150 million for a single product. Contrast that with Invacare's annual $40 million budget for R&D. Can $150 million be wrong? Is J&J's executive team rife with gamblers? Are we missing something?

Segway. Speaking of the IBOT, how about this Segway Human Transporter, the two-wheeled scooter introduced last month after years of secrecy. Like the IBOT, the Segway uses gyroscopes and electronic sensors to maintain balance. People are talking about applications in warehouses and police beats. Hardly anyone is talking about its use among seniors. Maybe I am missing something.

Sleep labs. I don't believe the Cubans, teamsters or the CIA had a hand in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And I believe members of the John Birch Society should stick to birch trees. But, in all the years I've been covering this industry, I've always had this funny feeling that myriad powerful forces, such as doctors, more specifically sleep physicians, would rather not see the advent of excellent new technologies move beyond the sleep lab into the bedroom.

The Unified Voice Theory. If both the American Association for Homecare and the National Association of Home Care each want to speak for home healthcare with a unified voice, why not unify?

Competitive bidding. Where did Florida legislators get the bright idea that launching a competitive bidding program - not a pilot, mind you - for durable medical equipment is a bright idea? Not from the state's HME providers. Lawmakers down there never even asked. One caveat for Florida lawmakers: remember the butterfly ballot.

Recession-proof? Just when most of us are persuaded that M.C. Hammer is standing between recession and the home healthcare industry - "You can't touch this" - Invacare tells us sales will fall 4-6% for the fourth quarter. So much for immunity. HME