Rehab providers go it alone

Sunday, February 29, 2004

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Seven members of AAHomecare’s Rehab and Assistive Technology Council last month jumped ship to form a new coalition with a directed focus on high-end rehab issues.

The National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology (NCART) took shape in February as an independent membership organization formed to focused attention on the needs of high-end rehab suppliers and manufacturers.

“The concerns of the rehab community were not being met by AAHomecare because it is a much more global organization,” said Simon Margolis, a former RATC member who has taken a place on the NCART board of directors. “It almost seems counterproductive to me to say that one group can represent everything from home health nursing to high-end rehab. They are too different.”

NCART plans to focus on a few key areas in its inaugural year, including coding challenges under HIPAA, competitive bidding and the DMERC’s recent clarification regarding power wheelchair coverage criteria.

“We are not trying to create two distinct worlds here. We still see AAHomecare as the voice of the industry on overall industry issues, but when you get to specifically high-end rehab and assistive technology, that’s where our focus will be,” said Rita Hostak, NCART president and vice president of government relations for Sunrise Medical. Hostak had served as chair of the RATC executive committee.

Some in the industry worry the industries message will be diluted if it is coming from too many different groups and coalitions, a problem the industry tried to reconcile with the creation of AAHomecare just three years ago.

“We understand why rehab would want to work on its issues, but at what point in time do we fracture ourselves into nonexistence?” asked one provider who asked to remain anonymous.

“We are all fighting each other and going in different directions when we need to be cleaning up the battlefield after what happened with Medicare,” said Larry Rice, owner of The Wheelchair Shop in Houston, Texas.

AAHomecare and NCART, however, say efforts will be cooperative and can only serve to strengthen the industry’s presence on Capitol Hill.

“Are we going to dilute the industry voice? No. We are going to raise the volume,” said Margolis.

It is AAHomecare perhaps that has the most to lose, however, with many of the big players in high-end placing stake in NCART, including Invacare, Sunrise Medical, National Seating and Mobility, Pride Mobility and U.S. Rehab. Sources also say Sharon Hildebrandt, executive director of RATC, left the association to head up the new coalition.

“NCART represents probably 80% of the dollars that are transacted in the rehab community at this point,” said Margolis, whose company, National Seating and Mobility, is considering pulling out of its AAHomecare membership.

How many other rehab members follow is the question that remains.

“My hope is that the companies will understand the need for some of those industry-wide efforts and continue to remain as members of AAHomecare,” said Mills. “I know some of them won’t.”

According to an industry insider, NCART’s creation is a result of growing dissatisfaction with the association over several years. RATC was never given the resources it required and it even had to pay for its own executive director, said the source, who asked to remain nameless. NCART and AAHomecare maintain, however, that the split is amicable and that the two will continue to work closely together.

“This is not an issue of AAHomecare being good or bad, right or wrong,” said Margolis. “They are just not right for [high-end rehab providers] at this moment.”