Press releases second act of CMS drama

Friday, October 31, 2003

YARMOUTH, Maine - Calls for “aggressive reviews,” “vigorous efforts” and “harsh penalties” echoed through the HME industry following the announcement of CMS’s groundbreaking plan to curb power wheelchair abuse.

CMS administrator Tom Scully, however, was not alone with these chilling words for the industry.

In the hours and days following the Wheeler Dealer announcement, industry leaders were in a scramble to go “on the record” with their support of the CMS crackdown and a wave of press releases followed.

“We are totally committed to this effort to acknowledge the good and the bad of our industry,” said Permobil’s vice president of sales and marketing, Tom Rolick, in a statement released several days after the announcement. “It’s no secret we support any movement that better defines what we do and who can do it, as it relates to enhancing the lives of individuals needing assistive technology.”

Officials at Invacare Corporation and The Scooter Store led the pack in applauding CMS, issuing their press releases just hours after the Tuesday morning announcement.

“We have a zero tolerance policy for those who commit fraud in our industry,” said Invacare CEO Mal Mixon in the company’s statement. “Invacare is committed to working with the government to rid the industry of these individuals who pollute our industry.”

The flood of support served two of the industry’s interests: To separate itself from those associated with the fraud ring and to remind CMS that it would like to remain involved in the policy discussions that are sure to follow in the coming months.

“We are signaling to Scully that we agree with this path and that we want to be at the table when some of these policies are developed,” said PMC Director Erik Sokol.

Some company’s issued releases explaining their role in cracking down on the fraudulent activities in the Houston area.

“[These reactions were] not something that was done after the fact as if it was first time the industry had heard about it and now they were applauding the agency,” said Steve Azia, counsel for PMS. “[The industry] had been talking about it for awhile.”

While The Scooter Store and Invacare explained their specific role in the recent fraud case, other manufacturers outlined previous actions they had taken to rid the industry of abuse. Permobil described its efforts in passing legislation in Tennessee and other states, and Pride encouraged others in the industry to begin self policing itself in areas that soon could fall under CMS’s fire.

“Although unrelated to the fraud issue, [Scully] is clearly unhappy with the aggressiveness of some of the power chair advertising being done,” said Pride’s release. “It’s Pride’s view we either self-police today or face new, potentially onerous restrictions tomorrow.”

In all, reaction was positive, if not wary of what the initiative means for the industry and for legitimate dealers.

“The support for what the administrator is doing is support to get rid of fraud and abuse in the program and let those who play by the rules participate,” said Azia.