Tax credit could be boon for home modifications

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Friday, September 22, 2017

The home medical equipment industry is poised to benefit from the “aging in place” movement, especially on the home modification front. If Congress approves a proposed $30,000 tax credit for seniors to modify their homes, it could serve as motivation for more HME providers to enter the business, manufacturers say.

Currently being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senior Accessible Housing Act (HR 1780) would “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a tax credit to seniors who install modifications on their residences that would enable them to age in place, and for other purposes.” Though it still has a long way to go before it could pass, tax credits for home modification could potentially jumpstart a business segment that is a natural fit for HME providers.

“We were excited to hear about the proposed bill introducing the Senior Accessible Housing Act,” said Taylor Walker, director of dealer development for Barlett, Tenn.-based American Access. “Providing tax credits would be great way to incentivize seniors to make needed home improvements.”

As a ramp manufacturer, American Access is already seeing an increase in HME interest in the home modification business, Walker said. The tax credit, he said, would only accelerate that business.

“Many homeowners see our wheelchair ramps as a safe and affordable way to gain access to their homes,” Walker said.  “A home improvement investment will help seniors remain mobile and safe in their own homes, while reducing long-term cost of medical care from injuries and assisted living expenses.”

Jay Everett, national sales manager for Oakdale, Pa.-based Clarke Health Care Products, agrees that if passed, the tax credit would “absolutely” boost interest in home modifications and strengthen the “aging in place” movement. At this point, he says, HME provider involvement varies, depending on their category focus.

“HME providers have always provided home modification-type products and I’m not sure if they have really changed much,” he said. “Some rehab providers are now offering a higher level of service and dedicating a marketing force for this type of product line.”

One of the HME industry’s leading advocates for home modification is Jim Greatorex, vice president of the Accessible Home Improvement of America division for Waterloo, Iowa-based VGM. To promote the “aging in place” movement and expanding HME’s role in home modifications, Greatorex created a panel discussion for Medtrade 2017 that uses the tag line “the future’s so bright, you need to wear shades.”

Indeed, Greatorex sees a bright future for “aging in place” and home modification, saying “Many people are predicting the revenue in this niche could easily be bigger than what is spent on home oxygen right now. It’s going to take about five to eight years to get there, but that is what’s coming.”

Crossing the threshold

Instead of waiting for the market to develop, HME providers can take steps now to cross the threshold into the home modification business, manufacturers say. In fact, thresholds are the perfect entrance to the segment, said Tim VanderHeiden, CEO of Chico, Calif.-based SafePath Products.

“HME operators could do more to capture this marketplace by looking for additional value-added products when dealing with their customer base,” he said. “In most cases for homes, there are vertical height thresholds at interior and exterior doorways. Many of these are vertical in height from three-quarters of an inch to three-inches high or even more at the front entrance door.”

Installing new door thresholds is one of the simplest, but most important modifications to make, VanderHeiden says, because they present a tripping hazard for seniors. Slips and falls are the leading cause of accidental death for people over age 65 and most of these falls occur around the home.

“This is an affordable and easy sell for HME providers,” VanderHeiden said. “They should be on the lookout for small vertical rises around the home that can be remedied with an attractive and affordable transition product.”

Build momentum

There are referral sources galore for prospective home modification candidates and HME providers should be regularly canvassing these sources, like outpatient rehab centers and VA facilities, to find them, Everett said.

“These places serve the patients who need home modification products to support their daily lives,” he said. “Look specifically for referral sources who are ‘aging in place’ specialists—there are more of them in the market now than ever.”

Another potentially valuable resource is HomesRenewed, a coalition of business, consumers, and nonprofits driving policy and investment to increase the number of age-friendly homes. By joining the group, founder Louis Tenenbaum said HME providers can learn more about the marketplace and how to capitalize on opportunities in the growing “aging in place” movement.