Trend watch: Vehicle lifts, mods

Sunday, April 30, 2006

YARMOUTH, Maine - Vehicle modifications and lifts have been a good supplement to the rehab business for years. But with increasingly complex and difficult documentation requirements for wheelchairs and scooters, providers say they plan to drive up their automotive/mobility businesses this year.
A+ Medical & Mobility in Augusta, Ga., aims by mid-2006 to significantly boost the number of advertising dollars it spends to promote its lifts and minivans with lowered floors. It currently runs one TV ad on a local NBC station.
Close by in Charlotte, N.C., Chair & Equipment Rental also plans this year to grow its lift business--currently, only 5% of its product mix--with advertising.
"The effort we've put toward (non-wheelchair and scooter products) has been minimal, but with everything else going on, we need to diversify," said Will Dolan, managing director. "It's easier to get reimbursed for (lifts, ramps and stair glides). You're not going through as much red tape. Often, they're cash items."
Mike Bower, president of A+ Medical, agreed: "The best part of having an automotive/mobility division is payer diversification, with neither Medicare's nor managed care's reimbursement headaches."
A+ Medical's payer mix for automotive/mobility products looks like this: about 50% third-party or credit accounts and about 50% consumer (through financing or out-of-pocket).
The money's not bad, either, even when compared to wheelchairs, which often cost thousands of dollars. For example, a lowered floor, fold-out ramp with kneeling suspension costs about $15,000; a wheelchair lift installed in a full-size van carries a $5,000 price tag; and a transport lift costs up to $3,000.
Increasing demand and professionalism, as well as car manufacturers that give people with disabilities $1,000 toward after-market driver or passenger aids, are also driving providers to boost their automotive/mobility businesses, Bower said.
But providers aren't boosting that business at the expense of their wheelchair and scooter businesses, Dolan said.
"I wouldn't say people who aren't already in the (automotive/mobility) business are jumping in," he said. "We're all trying to do more of what we already do--and do it a whole lot better."