Providers report cuts by manufacturers

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Several providers report that they're receiving fewer visits and phone calls from manufacturer sales representatives, leaving them to make do with reduced services. Case in point: Mark Ehlers, owner of Ehler's Health Supply in Stockton, Calif., said having reps come in to educate his employees is "becoming a thing of the past."
"We used to see or hear from 10 to 15 sales reps every month," he said. "Now, we get five or six."
With less attention from reps, some providers feel they have fewer products to choose from and less exposure to the latest technologies.
"We're definitely seeing it, too," said Vince DeStigter, CEO of Western Healthcare in Jackson, Calif. "It's bothersome. I've always said, 'Your reps are your best friends.' If you don't have reps available, you're not on the cutting edge."
Providers speculate that manufacturers are beginning to feel the pain from the reimbursement cuts and policy changes that the industry has sustained this year, particularly those involving oxygen and rehab equipment. Providers are just now feeling the trickle-down effect, they say.
Several manufacturer representative groups, including Westar Medical and the Brewis Group, haven't cut back on their visits and calls. They acknowledge, however, that some manufacturers may be in a "holding pattern" until the details of this year's cuts and changes are fleshed out.
Something else may be at play, too: "(Oxygen manufacturers) may be concentrating more on referral sources than dealers right now, because they've already hit rock bottom, in terms of the prices they can offer dealers," said Westar's W.B. Mick.
Other providers like Vanessa Morse, a branch supervisor for Healthline Medical Supply in Virginia, Minn., say their relationships with manufacturers haven't changed.
"They're e-mailing us just about every other day about changes going on in the industry," said Morse, who oversees purchasing for the company.
It wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if providers received fewer visits and calls from manufacturer reps, as far as Gary Sheehan is concerned.
"I can't say that I've noticed a difference, but if that's the case for some, I'd view it as a positive," said Sheehan, general manager of Cape Medical Supply in Sandwich, Mass. "Our purchasing people don't have the time to go over the reiteration of every product that comes out."