Sleep growth slows

Monday, August 31, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine - After enjoying several years of rapid growth, the sleep market has slowed, thanks to the current recession, say providers.

"People are losing their jobs and they're losing their insurance," said provider Sandy Fermoile, owner of Buffalo, N.Y.-based Apnea Care. "If they've got a pile of bills, CPAP is next to the bottom."

A Wachovia study published in May found that HME providers expect the economy to slow their sleep business growth by 1.4%. Also, according to the survey, 53% of providers have seen a decline in "out-of-pocket" CPAP purchases, and 42% have seen patients replacing masks less frequently.

Provider Mike Kuller has seen a 20% decline in his sleep revenues since the first of the year. People are reluctant to spend their money, he said.

"They wait six months or a year to replace their masks, instead of every three months," he said. "Many have lost their insurance or they don't want to pay out-of-pocket."

Even for patients with health insurance, high deductibles and co-pays stress budgets.

Provider Todd Cressler has seen an increase in patients setting up payment plans.

"We have gone from 20 payment plans to 80 in the last four months," said Cressler, president/CEO of Harrisburg, Pa.-based CressCare Medical. "Our AR over 120 days in private pay is increasing."

Despite awareness of sleep apnea as a serious condition, patients are putting off treatment, says provider Jack Hogan.

"They are viewing it as elective," said Hogan, vice president of Waterbury, Conn.-based Health Complex Medical. "They just say, "Well, my wife will have to listen to me snore a little longer."

That means patients may also put off sleep studies. At CressCare Medical, new patient set-ups are down 8.4%, said Cressler.

"The sleep labs in our area are seeing a big increase in cancellations for sleep studies," he said. "Patients don't want to get hit with a big bill for a sleep study." hme