Wheeler Dealer

Friday, October 31, 2003

YARMOUTH, Maine - Despite its vast implications for the HME industry, Wheeler Dealer came as no surprise to many power mobility providers, some of who greeted the CMS announcement with open arms.

Most providers agreed that the 10-point initiative to curb the skyrocketing numbers of Medicare claims from unscrupulous power mobility providers was a necessary step in bringing credibility back to the business.

“I believe it was necessary,” said Gary Gilberti, president of Chesapeake Rehab Equipment. “I believe that [CMS Administrator Tom Scully] saw an over-utilization in a specific area of our industry and decided to address it. However, I hope he proceeds with caution to the extent where reputable providers are not harmed.”

Other providers echoed the concern that some components of the plan may overstep those providers who are being targeted and inadvertently affect “honest dealers.”

Negative media coverage, difficulty procuring new supplier numbers and increased scrutiny of business practices all have been mentioned as factors that could have outlying effects on the industry.

Larry Rice, general manager of the Wheelchair Shop in Houston, Texas, near the center of the storm in Harris County, Texas, said new clients come into his store on the defensive thinking they are going to get ripped off. He worries that insurance companies may become a hassle for providers as well.

“[The scandal] affects us in that people see the news and say ‘that mean, old Wheelchair Shop.’ It gives us all a black eye,” Rice said.

“I think everyone is going to have to double check themselves and make sure they have all the appropriate paperwork,” said Tim Barrett, operations director at Rehab Designs in Louisville, Ky. “Maybe they’ll triple check themselves, but I don’t think anyone is going to stop selling wheelchairs as a result.”

In the announcement, Scully cited a 450% increase over four years in Medicare spending on power wheelchairs, calling the growth “unprecedented” and a “serious financial threat.”

While most providers agree with Scully’s conclusion that DME fraud is a contributing factor to the growth, many providers said a growing awareness of the technology also played a major a role.

“A major portion [of the increase] has been fraud,” said Rice, “Another portion is large vendors who know the law and have marketed heavily to the consumer through advertising and mail outs. Hell, I’m even getting mail outs, and I am not that old.”

Providers say marketing efforts have resulted in people who do not meet Medicare requirements for power mobility asking for the equipment - and often receiving it.

Despite some reservations, support for the initiative remains strong, as many have seen the need to arrest the swelling market first hand.

“The next six months should prove very interesting,” said Rice.