NewsPoll: Will 2010 be better or worse? Depends who you ask

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine – After a year that started with the oxygen cap and ended with competitive bidding, providers look to 2010 with a mix of hope and trepidation.

In the most recent HME NewsPoll, providers were nearly evenly split on whether the year ahead will be better (39%) or worse (38%).

"2010 is a year with great growth opportunities for a company that is willing to be aggressive in the marketplace," said Barry Martin, president of HomeCare Advantage.

Others aren't so upbeat.

"We will fare worse in 2010," wrote Jerry Hall of Hall-Moore Medical Supplies. "Competitive bidding, PECOS and healthcare reform that could take $500 billion from Medicare—pick your poison."

Another 23% of respondents expect business to stay about the same.

"We will not see growth as we had hoped," wrote one provider. "Just to tread water is about all a DME can expect."

If there's one thing the past year has taught providers, it's how to operate lean and mean. Those are lessons providers seem prepared to carry into the months ahead.

"We have cut expenses and debt to the core," wrote one provider. "We are now showing a very positive profit trend which will continue to improve through 2010. We will continue to cut all unnecessary costs."

It's time to ditch the dead weight, agrees another.

"We have eliminated all items that are not profitable," he wrote. "We manage our patients; they don't manage us. We don't do tank deliveries or accept low-income referrals on weekends or after hours."

Cost-cutting aside, many providers planned to grow in 2010, mostly by diversifying away from Medicare.

"We are expanding services that are not related to oxygen and continue to keep all the important non-Medicare contracts in place," said Larry Anderson, CEO of Prescott, Ariz.-based Alliance Home Care & Mobile Diagnostics.

Cash is king, says another.

"We sell retail items—no Medicare," the provider said. "Last year was solid, but we were held back some by the bad economy. Our customers can only put off buying our products for so long. With pent-up demand from 2009, 2010 will be a great year."

During the year ahead, the industry will continue to press for oxygen reform and a repeal of competitive bidding. And then there's the great unknown of healthcare reform.

"Everything is up in the air," said one provider. "I guess flexibility is the goal for 2010."