Reporter's notebook: There is life after reimbursement cuts

Friday, January 25, 2013

MOREHEAD, Ky. – When Medicare implemented its 36-month cap on oxygen in 2009, Lois Vice knew she needed to find another source of revenue.

“The capped rental was a huge blow to us,” said Vice, director of St. Claire Regional Family Medical Supply. “We lost about 7%, or about $175K, of our annual income.”

So the provider in 2009 opened a 4,000-square-foot retail store to supplement its respiratory and HME offerings. 

It was a good decision. That first year, the business grew 23%, and it has grown about 10% each year since, to where it accounted for about $300,000 in annual revenue in 2012, Vice said.

“We felt that our customers needed it,” she said. “There was no one in this area.”

That area is the rural Appalachian foothills about halfway between Ashland and Lexington. The high poverty rates in Appalachia are reflected in Family Medical Supply’s payer mix, which is nearly 50% Medicaid. 

“COPD, diabetes and congestive heart failure are the big (health problems) in our area,” said Vice.

Family Medical Supply now offers a full line of DME like ambulatory aids, beds, lift chairs and bath safety items, along with mastectomy and shoe fitting services and scrubs. The provider drives traffic to the store through a mix of newspaper advertising, health fairs and in-store events.

“We have a healthy living series we do quarterly at the store,” said Vice. “We do a live radio broadcast during the healthy living series. They are very well attended.”

Vice has seen a lot of changes in health care since she joined the industry in 1979. 

“We got into it when it wasn’t glamorous or profitable,” she said. “We are just there to serve customers.”