Providers laud Invacare - but will they buy more product?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

YARMOUTH, Maine – Rehab providers nationwide have applauded Invacare’s decision to stop selling power wheelchairs to the Scooter Store, writing off about $10 million a year in revenue.

“We’re impressed, because for many in the industry, money is the bottom line,” said Debbie Libby, the rehab coordinator for Susquehanna Valley Mobility Services in Montandon, Pa. “It’s nice to see someone finally standing up for what’s right.”

Invacare stopped selling power wheelchairs to the Scooter Store in January, shortly after coming across a letter that the Scooter Store sent to a handful of congressional offices opposing efforts to carve out complex rehab from national competitive bidding.

While providers applauded Invacare and encouraged other manufacturers to follow its lead, few said they would now buy more wheelchairs from Invacare. By parting ways with the Scooter Store, Invacare has stated that it hopes to generate additional business from independent providers.

“We probably won’t do less business with any of our other vendors because of this,” said Jim Poteet, owner of Metrocare Home Medical & Rehab in Germantown, Wis., who buys from Invacare, Pride Mobility Products, Sunrise Medical and Drive Medical, in that order. “We need to make sure we preserve customer choice.”

Over time, however, that may change, said Jim Sloan, president of Medco Inc., in Orange Park, Fla.

“Right now, we’re not making any changes, and Invacare and Pride are neck-and-neck,” he said. “But down the road, if this slows down the Scooter Store from coming into competitive bidding areas and getting bids, things could be different.”

It may be business as usual for now, but at the very least, providers say, Invacare’s stand has changed the way they view manufacturers who continue to sell to the Scooter Store.

“While I understand Pride’s point of view—the Scooter Store’s a major account for them—and I give them kudos for their work in Washington, D.C., they appear to be playing both sides of the fence,” said Jim Greatorex, president of Portland, Maine-based Black Bear Medical. “That may have ramifications at some point.”