Women's health providers seek specialty exemptions

Friday, September 30, 2005

OXFORD, Mich. - The small women's health niche industry is launching an offensive against Medicare's proposed national competitive bidding program. The niche, fighting for its life, is looking for support in getting its products exempt from the bid process.
Women's health providers argue that the small specialty businesses involved in the post-mastectomy field would likely be forced to close by competitive bidding. A women's health carve-out, they argue, would preserve these small businesses and ensure women receive the same quality of care.
"For a very intimate and personal type of business, the concern is that women would be forced to go to an impersonal DME type business and not receive the same professional, educated and compassionate care they would have at a business specializing - at least in part - in the provision of women's health products, specifically post-breast surgery products," said Cindy Ciardo, CEO of Knueppel HealthCare Services and Essentially Women's manager of vendor services.
Another pressing concern is the looming deadline for mandatory accreditation. Since most specialty women's health boutiques employ only two to three people, the cost of getting accreditation and maintaining those standards could be prohibitive, said Daina Pitzenberger, president of the Women's Health Boutique franchise. Two of the three major accrediting bodies - JCAHO and CHAP - also do not recognize women's health as a specialty niche, she added.
"The only one that does is ACHC. The mastectomy business is very threatened by that. Do they have the manpower and hours to handle us?" said Pitzenberger. "We have asked that CMS consider the O&P niche and allow the ABC and the BOC as accrediting bodies."
The challenge is getting these arguments heard. Pitzenberger said the industry needs to send letters to legislators and get beneficiaries involved in the fight. Essentially Women is encouraging its members to actively support the Hobson-Tanner bill, which includes protections for small providers under competitive bidding. EW also has a beneficiary letter posted on its Web site it hopes providers will ask their customers to send out.
"Getting our voices heard and getting the support of our congressional delegates - in addition to running our businesses - is no small task," Ciardo said.