Providers’ DTC fears mount

‘We’re always concerned that (manufacturers) are going to cut us out altogether’
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Friday, July 27, 2018

YARMOUTH, Maine – HME providers fear Philips’ recent decision to step into the direct-to-consumer space for cash-paying customers for POCs is a “gateway drug” to other product categories.

“I don’t want our manufacturing and vendor partners to become our competitors,” said Josh Marx, managing director of sleep and vice president of business development for Cleveland-based Medical Service Company. “At this point, it’s the POC going retail, but I think there’s a larger blue ocean out there to capitalize on if they choose to.”

Philips Sleep and Respiratory Care has revamped its consumer-focused website, www.copdinfo.com, to feature a locator tool that allows insurance customers to find local HME providers that carry the SimplyGo and SimplyGo Mini POCs, and cash customers to buy directly from the manufacturer online.

But providers say they want those cash sales, as well.

“Every time you turn around there’s another cash opportunity being taken away from providers,” said Gene Sego, president of Titusville, Fla.-based Sego’s Home Medical Equipment. “We’re always concerned that (manufacturers) are going to cut us out altogether.”

While providers acknowledge that isn’t likely to happen any time soon, it’s hard to ignore the trends in that direction. Inogen has served as both a manufacturer and provider for several years.

“I was buying from Inogen when they first came on the scene,” said Sego. “I woke up real late one night and saw an Inogen commercial for my area. I stopped buying from them that day.”

But because Philips is one of the largest manufacturers of more broad range of respiratory products, providers won’t be so quick to pull the plug, they say.

“My referral guys are big Respironics fans, so my hands are a bit tied,” said Jason Jones, president of Troy, Ala.-based Jones Medical Supply. “Right now, I can’t rock that boat, but I would absolutely weigh my options if it became a direct threat.”

One saving grace: Providers say they have plenty of customers who prefer to buy local, and need the service and expertise only a local provider can offer.

“I’d like to think you’d have a hard time getting good patient care out of a box,” said Gregory LoPresti, senior vice president and CEO of Clinton, N.Y.-based Upstate HomeCare. “As a longtime provider, I have significant concerns about this trend.”