Wouldn't that be nice

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The big news this month is that CMS has yet to release a final draft for national competitive bidding. The agency has had more than three years to pull this program together and roll it out, and they're still not done. What we hear now is that CMS will release the final draft of NCB by April. But don't hold your breath. With CMS, it's always next month. And more often than not, it seems, whenever they release something of consequence, they do so late on a Friday afternoon, after everyone's gone home for the weekend. I guess they're proponents of the "drop a bomb and get out of town, so no one can scream at you" strategy.
Boom and bust
The mergers and acquisition market for HME companies has been in the tank for more than a year now. At one time, if you ran a tidy respiratory company and wanted to sell, you could pretty much count on multiple offers. Buyers now crave home infusion companies, which operate in a more stable reimbursement market with less risk than HME. I wonder how long that's going to last. It would seem that the case for diversification (payers and product mix) has never been stronger.
Playing the market
Speaking of boom and bust: Ken Humphrey is feeling pretty good these days (See story page 34). He exited the respiratory business more than two years ago, and now the HME provider is patting himself on the back: "I feel like I was playing the stock market, and I sold at the right time."
Are we having fun yet?
When it comes to technology, there's still a lot of exciting stuff being developed. Unfortunately, innovation sometimes gets lost amid industry efforts to stem the tide of reimbursement cuts. That's why it's heartening to see the Illinois Association for Medical Equipment Services (IAMES) rededicate itself to lobbying for industry issues (See story page 14). As IAMES President Alan Kirk says, without a stable reimbursement environment, "how much fun can we have talking about new technology?" If more providers follow IAMES' example, the fun can start sooner rather than later.
Hope springs eternal
It's April, the cruelest month, when hope springs eternal. There's still a sense among industry watchers that a lot of providers--rather than taking action to improve their operations and join industry lobbying efforts--hope all these Medicare issues will just go away. That's a little bit like when your car's making a funny noise and you "hope" it will fix itself. Like you're going to wake up some morning and presto, it'll be as good as new.
Wouldn't that be nice.