Rehab, AAH break up: Non-issue or big deal?

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

WASHINGTON - Moving forward with the issues affecting HME following the enactment of the Medicare Modernization Act has proven to be a dividing factor for the industry - literally - with several RATC members this winter exiting the umbrella of AAHomecare to form the National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology.
Mal Mixon

That move has further fueled the discord with opinions facing off on what kind of impact the fissure will have.

“My view has always been we need to unite and not fragment ourselves,” said Mal Mixon, Invacare’s president and CEO. “[Invacare] is one step removed from this, and our customers feel it is important that [rehab] breaks off, so we are going to support that group too.”

NCART was created in February after at least seven RATC members left to form a new membership organization focused on the needs of high-end rehab providers. NCART’s board of directors includes officials from many of the top rehab companies, including Sunrise Medical, National Seating and Mobility, Invacare and Pride Mobility. Sharon Hildebrandt, former executive director of RATC, also left AAHomecare to head the new group.

NCART’s creation has sparked anxiety that the financial resources that companies devote to government affairs will be spread too thin to be effective. The major concern, however, is that the industry’s message will become too diluted as the number of messengers grows.

“Our small voice becomes even smaller,” said one industry watcher. “We understand why rehab would want to work on its issues, but at what point do we bifracture ourselves into non-existence?”

Others, in favor of NCART’s formation, say the “one voice” issue is being overplayed.

“This should be a non-issue,” said Nancy Lansing, director of marketing for Connecticut Rehab, which also has a place on the board of directors. “[NCART] should not affect AAHomecare’s message or mission at all, but what it does do is create an alliance because they now have a specialty organization they can align with.”

Lansing compared the situation to the American Medical Association, which covers all physicians, and the numerous groups that surround it, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, that meet more specialized needs.

“So while you have AAHomecare directing the global needs of home care, the highly specialized needs of rehab technology and providing rehab has to have its own entity,” she said. “Only rehab can best represent themselves.”

Others in the industry say the voice is already divided with numerous organizations and coalitions trying to put forward their opinion. Members of Congress are going to be inundated with opinions from the Power Mobility Coalition, VGM, Northwood, Pride Mobility and many others, said Wade Hendrickson, president of Hendrickson Healthcare in Rock Rapids, Iowa.

“If you’ve had eight groups come in, then you have to figure out who is telling the truth and who is representing the beneficiary,” he said. “It is confusing.”

Despite the reservations, it was time for the needs and issues of the rehab community to be met directly, said Simon Margolis.

“If we look at the industry as a choir and there are individual voices that sing in harmony, then there is no problem,” said Margolis, vice president of clinical and professional development at National Seating and Mobility and an NCART board member. “I don’t think there can be one voice for groups that have sometimes diverging priorities.”