Some state associations report decreased participation

Monday, December 31, 2007

YARMOUTH, Maine – While memberships remain healthy, several state associations struggled in 2007 to draw attendees to their various meetings and seminars, industry sources report. Reasons for the lackluster participation can be tied mostly to national competitive bidding and other industry changes, they say.
In Massachusetts, for instance, the New England Medical Equipment Dealers association (NEMED) hosted about 70 members at its last quarterly meeting of 2007 compared to about 90 last year. In Virginia, the Virginia Association of Durable Medical Equipment Companies (VADMEC) cancelled a Nov. 7 competitive bidding-related seminar with popular industry consultants Ty Bello and Jack Evans due to lack of participation.
One source who works the conference circuit described attendance at the nine events he spoke at in 2007 as “abysmal.”
That source, state association leaders and providers say the rush to learn about competitive bidding has passed, leaving providers less motivated. Also at work: Competitive bidding and changes like Medicare’s 36-month cap on oxygen reimbursement have driven providers to the edge, personally and financially.
“People are running around a bit scared,” said Karyn Estrella, NEMED’s executive director. “Providers feel like they can’t do any long-term planning because of the threat of competitive bidding, and they’ve really tightened their belts.”
Jim Greatorex, president of Portland, Maine-based Black Bear Medical, says providers may be burnt out on competitive bidding. Bill Fredericks, owner of Millbury, Mass-based Allcare Medical Supply, says they may have their heads in the sand.
“You know what drives me crazy?” said Fredericks. “When people say they don’t have time to get to a meeting. This is their livelihood. We all have the same amount of time; it’s just about using it wisely.”
Whatever the reason for the lack of participation, state associations are discussing ways to get members more involved. NEMED has conducted a survey, asking members whether meeting topics are interesting (yes), whether prices are too high (no) and whether four meetings per year is too much (half said yes; half said no).
VADMEC has discussed whether to make some of its on-site events Webinars or teleconferences.
“That would certainly lower their expenses for education,” said Beth Bowen, executive director. “But we don’t want to get completely away from (on-site events). There’s huge value in face-to-face conversation.”
There’s at least one association that reports all-time high participation: The Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services (MAMES), which represents seven states. At the association’s fall meeting in October, 110 providers attended (compared to 106 last year) and 54 providers signed up for pre-conference ATP/ATS review courses (the association’s goal was 30).
“It’s hard to get our Arizona providers fired up, but for the most part, there’s a certain aggressiveness about our members,” said Rose Schafhauser, executive director. “They want to stay around, and they want the education and tools to allow them to do that.”