Rx association drives members toward HME

Saturday, November 30, 2002

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - The National Community Pharmacists Association, which includes 60% for the United States' 25,000 independent pharmacies, has rededicated itself to encouraging its members to sink their teeth into home medical equipment.

The NCPA hired its first-ever director of pharmacy specialty services this fall to help members expand their HME and long-term care offering.

"It's clear there is a huge market for ancillary business, whether it's medical supplies like diabetic strips and lancets, shoes, wound care or compression hosiery," said Bill Popomaronis, director of pharmacy specialty services. "Guys are so focused on the counter and filling those prescriptions they are missing opportunities."

It's not like pharmacists haven't been looking at home medical equipment for years as a way to offset dwindling margins on prescription drugs. In fact, an estimated 64% of independent pharmacies provide HME of some sort.

But over the past 20 years, many pharmacists who embraced and succeeded with HME have sold out to regional and national chains. Now with retiring baby boomers demanding personal service - service large chains typically don't provide - independent pharmacies are in a perfect position to snag a big piece of that market, said Bruce Roberts, NCPA's CEO.

And with the average independent pharmacy filling 54,000 prescriptions a year, they're's no shortage of walk-in traffic.

"A person should be able to walk into the front door of a pharmacy and to the left are prescriptions and over the counter products, and to the right are concentrators, beds and commodes," said Jeff Baird, a healthcare attorney with Brown & Fortunato in Amarillo, Texas, who consults with Rx and HME customers. "It's a natural."

If there's a stumbling block for independent pharmacists, it's Medicare reimbursement for DME, which is more involved than for Part B prescription drugs. A big part of his job, Popomaronis said, will be to demystify Medicare reimbursement for DME and provide clinical, marketing and other educational services.

Even on bath safety and other cash items, independent pharmacists can rake in significant ancillary income, Roberts said.

And while issues such as competitive bidding and inherent reasonableness are a concern, they seem less so for pharmacies than for HMEs.

"Independents are pretty darn good business men," Roberts said. "Our margins have dropped in half over the past 20 years. We under stand how to operate on low margins. HME is still pretty good compared to what we have to deal with." HME