Permobil tells rehab providers: 'You can survive'

Sunday, April 13, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The HME industry may be laboring under all kinds of regulatory and reimbursement gloom and doom, but Permobil did its best last week to give providers something to feel good about.

"Even if you lose all of your Medicare business, you can survive," Permobil President Larry Jackson told 375 rehab providers who attended the company's PowerSurge 2008, an educational and networking event. "You may have to move a little faster into a new market or change your focus, but you can survive."

During the two-day event's opening address, Jackson told attendees that he didn't buy all the talk that beneficiaries are going to die because of competitive bidding and that the industry will dry up and blow away.

Many baby boomers have saved a significant amount of money to finance their retirements and they often have excellent health insurance. That means Medicare is not the only game in town, he said. If competitive bidding prices come in too low, let other companies have that business and move on to greener pastures.

Jackson drew comparisons between power wheelchairs and the current crisis in the real estate housing market. Both enjoyed market bubbles and are now enduring the pain of those bubbles bursting. But just as people will always need houses, they will also, unfortunately, need wheelchairs, he said.

The power wheelchair market is expected to grow 5% to 8% a year for the next 20 years, and dealers who continue to provide satisfaction, will survive, he said.

Here are excerpts from talks by some of the event's other speakers.

Gary Leo, president and CEO of The ALS Association:
In an inspirational keynote talk about chasing your dreams, Leo encouraged providers not to become intimidated by competitive bidding and other bad news. Providers have the smarts and know-how to succeed, he said. "You guys are specialists. I met four MacGyvers here the other day."

Mark Schmeler, a director of the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology:
Thanks to competitive bidding and other government initiatives, the rehab industry has "hit rock bottom." That means you can "quit or move on," Schmeler said. "We are all starting from the bottom all over again." For rehab to evolve into a more stable industry, providers must stress professional education and credentialing; documenting outcomes (evidence this stuff works) will also be key, he said.

Kerri Morgan, an instructor in the Program in Occupational Therapy at Washington University in St. Louis:
From her own experience as a long-time wheelchair user and from her work with patients, Morgan offered attendees a personal perspective on the end-user. "Consumers want to participate in life activities with assistive technology that is safe, reliable, durable, comfortable and easy to use," she said. "Proper technology gets people out of the house and where they want to go."

Kevin Gouy, ATS, RTS, United Seating and Mobility:
The key to running a successful rehab company is to know your costs, he said. "The last thing you want to do is to walk into someone's house and not know where you stand. We cannot afford to give things away anymore. Giving things away is not a competitive advantage. These are no longer the days of the golden commode."

Marc Buoniconti, dinner speaker:
Buoniconti, the son of former Miami Dolphin linebacker Nick Buoniconti, suffered a severe spinal chord injury 22 years ago during a college football game, leaving him paralyzed from the shoulders down. During an emotional presentation, Buoniconti talked about the groundbreaking research being conducted to unlock the secrets of spinal cord repair and regeneration at the Miami Project, where he serves as a prominent fundraiser. Toward the end of his talk, Buoniconti told the audience: "People ask me what it's like to be paralyzed. Close your eyes and for the next 30 seconds don't move. Just sit there and imagine what it would be like to never be able to get up without help. The helplessness. The emptiness. That was just for 30 seconds. Imagine if that was your life."