Providers sound off on industry's image

Sunday, January 22, 2006

YARMOUTH, Maine - A majority--albeit a small majority--of HME providers say they donated money to industry lobbying efforts over the past year. Nevertheless, few of those who responded to the latest HME News poll believe that spending more money on lobbying is the best way to improve the industry's image with policy makers and the medical community.

Specifically, in an HME News Poll conducted earlier this month, 58.7% of 151 respondents reported that they contributed money to an industry lobbying effort during the past year. Only 6%, however, said that putting more money behind such efforts is the best way to improve the industry's image.

Of those who responded, 7.4% said that the best way to improve the industry's image is with more grass-roots lobbying; 18.8% suggested coalitions with consumer and clinical groups; 22.8% favored publishing outcomes date on HME's cost effectiveness; and 32.2% said the best way to improve the industry's image is to recruit beneficiaries to lobby on its behalf. (12.8% suggested some "other" strategy.)

When it comes to spending more money on lobbying, "there is relatively no money being put into lobbying for our cause," wrote Thomas Pawlowski, owner of Thomas Respiratory Health Care in Lebanon, Conn. "Insurance and oil companies spend billions, we don't."

Not only do most providers lack the deep pockets of the "favored industries," but Congress also doesn't understand the industry.

"We have got to get beneficiaries involved continually," wrote Butch Vanderpool, owner of Winter Haven, Fla.-based All Ways Rehab. "We need to use seniors and senior groups, i.e. the AARP, to educate CMS."

"I don't feel that (policy makers and the medical community) realize just what most HME companies do for their customers, other than supply them with equipment," added Richard Burks, store manager of a pharmacy and DME in Beloit, Kan.

The industry's lack of cohesiveness hasn't helped its cause; nor has it done enough on its own behalf, providers said.

"We are the weakest link," wrote one respondent. "We don't band together and instead fight many battles."

Fairy Shull, in sales at Mid-South Medical and Mobility in Memphis, wrote: "The HME industry has not effectively presented the benefits of home care and home equipment to the public."

And, added Karen Chrapek, special projects manager of Mobility Products Unlimited in South Daytona, Fla.: "There is not enough data on how HME can help patients and save the government money in the long run."

A common thread throughout the poll was that past fraud and abuse continue to give the industry a black eye. Providers need to get past that by working to change the minds of policy-makers, said respondents.