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by: Theresa Flaherty - Friday, December 2, 2016

In my position as both an editor covering diabetes supplies but also, as a person with diabetes, I am well attuned to all the diabetes news and announcements that come out.

Sometimes, as in the case of headlines about insulin sticker shock, I am tempted to duck my head.

Other times, when I hear about the latest innovation, I’ll think, “meh.” That’s especially true when it comes to so-called ouchless technology. If you have to prick your finger with something sharp, it’s gonna hurt.

However, a recent press release heralding success with a breathalyzer device to measure blood sugar caught my attention. THAT, I thought, would be truly pain free.

I spoke with one of the researchers, Dr. Ronny Priefer, who’s been working on this device.

Folks have been looking for a solution to finger sticks for nearly 40 years and the list includes wristbands, earlobe sensors and contact lenses. Even Google has jumped into the fray, teaming up with Novartis to research methods of using tears to check blood sugar.

The impetus behind all this activity? So that more people with diabetes will actually check their sugars. The fear of pain keeps many from doing so. Preifer himself doesn’t have diabetes, but as a guinea pig, he pricked his finger 25 times in one day.

“It’s not a pleasant feeling,” he said. “I’m not volunteering to do it again.”

I feel his pain. When I landed in the ICU with my diabetes diagnosis, I had my sugar checked hourly by the nurses to establish, I guess, some sort of baseline. That’s roughly 24 x a day for 2 to 3 days. Fortunately, my fingers were kinda numb from the high sugars.

Until. Day 4, when they’ve brought me much more under control and moved me to a regular room (on a ward with a lot of old people). My breakfast arrived and when I went to whip off the plate cover, I felt the sting of all those fingersticks. I may or may not have inadvertently flung it at the wall.

Fast forward to today, I am and have always been fairly diligent about finger sticks. (But yes, sometimes I just don’t do it. I guess at what I need.)

It gives me hope that, despite many sexier or higher profile diseases to work on, plenty of researchers are still looking for ways to make life with diabetes a little easier.

My interview with Dr. Preifer is slated for the January issue of HME News.

 

by: Theresa Flaherty - Friday, November 11, 2016

When Editor Liz offered up her monthly list of suggestions for the front page of our next issue she included a photo, submitted by the Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, of Santa and Mrs. Claus. Perfect timing for December, right?

Then she (briefly) backtracked, wondering if maybe we should go with a photo of Congressman Price taken at Medtrade.

“I think we could all use a little Santa on the front page,” I said.

For while Dr. Price is indeed, a true HME champion, this conversation took place the day after the most brutal presidential election unlike anything anyone—no matter what side of the color line you fall on—has ever seen.

Frankly, I'm sick of the election, politics and politicians.

Now the country must move forward, preferably together. Despite my fear and disappointment, I tell myself to remain positive (not the most natural state of being for me in the best of circumstances).

I spoke with several industry stakeholders this week to see what impact a Trump presidency could have on the industry. While it’s certainly too early to know with any certainty, they all agree that a pro-biz prez could be a good thing for HME.

Speaking of remaining positive: that seemed to be the general mood of folks who attended Medtrade in Atlanta last week. While there are always the doomsayers, I think, for the most part, people know they have to figure out new ways to make it work. Like the turmoil the election has cast upon America’s political system, the HME industry as we know it is long gone.

Ironically, this year we celebrated the Year of the Women: women were honored with the industry's two major awards, one the inaugural HME Woman of the Year. I actually cringed as I typed that headline on page 4 of hte December issue because Hillary.

You can either curl up into a whimpering ball (something I know many women contemplated on Wednesday morning) or you can pull yourself together, paste on a smile and get to work.

Either way, hang on folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

by: Theresa Flaherty - Monday, October 31, 2016

I touched down in Atlanta Sunday afternoon. Helloooo summertime temps. (I had to break down and commit to turning up the thermostat at home last week so the warm weather was most welcome).

Downtown Atlanta was crazy with tailgate parties and people walking around with large cheese wedges on their heads. Apparently, there was some sort of football game happening? Just kidding. Even I figured out it was the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons—Jay Witter, I hope whoever you were rooting for won!

But I’d never seen a Cheesehead in the flesh before. They really do exist!

There was also some sort of Walking Dead Convention. No, that’s not what we’re calling Medtrade 2016 although one could be forgiven for thinking so. With all the drastic reductions in pricing, not just to Medicare, but other payers, 2016 has been a dark year indeed.

Pale-faced zombies were actually afoot in our fine hotel lobby. Which is appropriate, considering it’s also Halloween.

Still, while one could have a morbid attitude toward all things HME, I, for one, am excited to be here. The energy levels tend to be high and it’s fun to chat with people in person, rather than speaking to a disembodied voice over the phone. I hope all those who come to the show find what they are looking for, be it new products, new ideas, new connections or tons of leftover Halloween candy.

by: Theresa Flaherty - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

As a reporter I try to stay away from talking about politics outside my inner circle.

But, with the 2016 presidential election looming, I think politics is very much on everyone’s mind.

We recently ran our once-every-four-years news poll about the election.

After much handwringing and discussion on our parts over whether we should include all candidates and all parties; and whether voters could select undecided, none of the above or some other options, we went with Clinton/Trump/undecided & Republican/Democrat or none/independent.

Several readers wrote in with their vote for Gary Johnson and took us to task for not being more inclusive, but frankly, most providers skew, and have always skewed, Republican.

I was still surprised by how many providers said they would vote for Trump.

But I respect the right of you all to vote for the man. I’m sure you have your reasons and, judging from your comments, you’ve made carefully considered decisions.

As a Bernie supporter, I will cast my vote for Hillary Clinton, though she raises many, many concerns for me (her email server, however, is not one of them).

I always find it an interesting conundrum that providers face. As business owners, they are rightly concerned about onerous regulations and I don’t disagree that in that sense, they are better off voting Republican. But as business owners who make much of their living off of programs like Medicare/Medicaid they should be voting Democrat, no?

Back to that news poll: I think Lisa Wells, admittedly a consultant, not an HME provider, summed it up well when she said: “I’m always shocked to see how polar opposite that many of our industry leaders are with their choice of political party vs. the majority of the wheelchair users I serve. It’s mind boggling.”

by: Theresa Flaherty - Thursday, August 25, 2016

Things have been tough for the HME community for the past few years but this summer has taken it to a whole ‘nother level. Not only has the Medicare reimbursement for DME been decimated, other payers have begun to follow suit.

AAHomecare has tasked itself with gathering anecdotes about the impact on businesses as well as beneficiaries and I know I’ve heard my own share of horror stories. The best thing providers can do right now, say stakeholders, is amplify that message.

Meanwhile, over in the fantasyland that is Big Pharma, Mylan execs are backing down a little from plans to increase the price of the EpiPen once again—since 2007, the price has been jacked about 500% for no reason other than they can. To add insult to injury, its execs aren’t even owning their responsibility in this mess. The only person on this planet who defended Mylan? Martin Shkreli.

Don’t even get me started on how much those same execs increased their pay especially after speaking with provider Chris Smythe yesterday who told me: “You can’t pay me $26 for a commode that cost me $25. It just doesn’t work.”

Or check out this convoluted tale of Optum, the PBM for United Healthcare, overcharged customers for prescription medication (often, more than what the drug itself cost) and then clawed back the “overpayment” from the pharmacist.

I’d say nice work if you can get it, but frankly, I prefer to sleep at night.

And finally, a headline that strikes fear in my diabetic little heart: "Soaring insulin prices have diabetics feeling the pain."

 

by: Theresa Flaherty - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

I’m a bit famous for my excellent memory.

For example, favorite childhood memory: my parents put bootprints, sleigh tracks and a carrot top on the roof outside my window the Christmas I turned 4 so that I would know where Santa landed.

That memory has come in handy more than once lately, as I’ve had a few providers reach out looking for various articles that dated back 8 to 10 years. Found ‘em! When Mike Moran (you all remember Mike, right?) left several years, I think there was some fear on the part of Liz and I that we were losing his institutional memory. Fortunately, we muddled through just fine.

I will mark 11 years here at HME News this month and these days, I’m the institutional memory (well, Liz too). Like when competitive bidding got delayed after 14 days in Round 1 back in 2008. And contracts were sent by FedEx. I didn’t have to look any of that up.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I have been writing about much the same stuff since day 1 (competitive bidding, audits), just from the other side of the issue.

It helps to have a good memory when you are a writer: you can recall facts, quotes, etc., to flesh out the story. Or the blog (see above: Santa). Memory also aids in spelling words correctly (Liz hollers over the cube wall because frankly, it’s just faster to ask me most of the time).

Of course, neither memory nor superior spelling skills prevent plain old typos. Typos that totally change the meaning of a word or sentence are likely to send me into giggles (trust me, I’m not a giggler).

This week’s winner: I tweeted a link to a Q&A with Bob Soltis, but called him Bobo. While I am sure there are Bobos in the world, I doubt most of them are former ALJs who now author books on Medicare hearings. If there are, I doubt they are taken seriously.

Fortunately, we caught it and dropped the Bobo.

by: Theresa Flaherty - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Did you know that if you hold a session called “Women & Wine” men automatically know it’s not meant for them?

It’s true, and it was kind of a nice change of pace. Beth Cox-Hollingsworth reminded us all to take a moment to find the calm in our lives, something that is especially true in the hectic HME industry.

I am happy to report I regularly make time for some quiet calm, often with glass of (white) wine in hand; I have to. With Type 1 diabetes, I am well aware that stress is the enemy of us all.

The event also served as the setting to announce the new VGM HME Woman of the Year Award. The award is the brainchild of none other than new-ish CEO Mike Mallaro, who recognizes that women are often under-recognized and under-rewarded. Mike made an appearance—in video—at the session to talk about the award and its importance.

Know someone you’d like to nominate? Yourself? Do it here.

The new award and the new session are just two ways in which the folks at VGM are keeping Heartland fresh. The event is in its 15th year and it’s still pulling in first time attendees. I spoke to a few at lunch today, including an RT (48-year career so far) who is newer to the industry and needed CEUs. Another is a 23-year manager of a medical supplier who has recently taken on the mantle of sales manager—something that hadn’t existed previously at her company. She was here to learn anything and everything she could about sales and marketing.

Although VGM is a big deal in Waterloo, and the Heartland Conference is a big deal in the industry, shockingly my cab driver was in the dark.

“What are you in town for?” asked he.

“Heartland,” answered I, using the industry shorthand.

“Is that a church?” asked he.

Anyhow, today was our final day here at the conference and one thing we couldn’t find? Postcards! Anywhere!

by: Liz Beaulieu - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Imagine if you never forgot a person’s name ever again? How much easier could that make your life? That was the talk at today’s opening session at Heartland 2016.The session was called “Welcome to Your Brain” and it was about training your memory. A trained memory, according to keynote speaker Bob Gray, can enhance your business and your relationships and your business relationships.

“You can remember anything as long as it’s associated to something else in your life,” he told attendees. “I have yet to come across a business that cannot work better and more effectively through better recall.”

(I’m gonna inject here and just say, training or not, Mr. Gray has some sort of out-of-this-world-genius-robot memory, as demonstrated by a few fun exercises that had us riveted.)

Just to use our own myopic HME industry view of the world, we could all use memory association to sort out which round of competitive bidding included what categories, in which areas and started when. Am I right?

“Find your 12,365,” says Gray. “It has to be ridiculous.”

I also sat in on sessions on Google and AutoPay, both of which point the way to new ways of thinking, of doing business, of staying not only afloat but relevant and profitable.

But that’s why you’re all here, right?

I also attended the Washington Legislative update. While we were teased with breaking news (thanks, Jay Witter, you know how to get a reporter to stick around til the bitter end), there wasn’t anything specific per se that came out of today’s session, but judging by all the messages Witter seemed to be getting (from THE HILL!) point to something big happening, immediately if not sooner (as my dad used to say).

Reading between the lines, I’d say we’re looking for movement on the two bid bills, which by the way are at 32 cosponsors for the Senate bill and 103 for its House companion.

Well, something big needs to happen and it needs to happen fast, because Congress breaks for the summer on June 24. That’s ten days, people.

And that 12,365? It’s not only the number of months and days in the year, it’s the same height as Mt. Fuji. That’s merely one example of memory association.

by: Theresa Flaherty - Monday, June 13, 2016

Waterloo, Iowa, is 1,366.9 miles from Portland, Maine, if you’re driving. I’m not sure how far it is as the crow (or in this case, Delta) flies, but two 2-hour plane flights, and an hour’s drive in a rental car with Siri’s help (she pronounces it water-LOO) and we made it to our hotel tired and hungry but relatively unscathed.

Then we got lost on the tiny drive to the Heartland hog roast. I’d like to blame Siri, but who knows how we wound up meandering through the local neighborhoods looking for something, anything, that looked like the downtown or the riverfront.

At the kwik mart where we stopped for directions:

Clerk: “It’s near the “Waterloo Library. Do you know where that is?” No.

Helpful customer: “Isn’t it near the library?” So we’ve heard.

The good news is, we now know where the apparently ever-popular Waterloo library is.

This year is the 15th year of the annual VGM Heartland Conference and Van Miller’s absence appears keenly felt. His dog, Daisy—soon to be a working dog with veterans, children with autism, and, ahem, people with diabetes—made the rounds tonight, as did several other pups.

They’ll be around all week and if you can, check out this important cause, Retrieving Freedom, which trains the dogs and matches them with families.

Another theme I’ve already noticed at this year’s event: wine.

There’s been a couple of networking events centered on wine, including the women and wine event (or wine, women and song, as Jo-Ellen insists on calling it) that’s on my calendar for Wednesday afternoon. Shocking, I know!

While I didn’t see any wine at the hog roast tonight, there was a special beer on tap: It’s called Thumbs Up and it was brewed specially in honor of Van.

I also got a hot tip for a special announcement happening on Wednesday. I’m sworn to secrecy, but I can tell you, I approve!

I’ve got my new Heartland app downloaded and am ready to get started tomorrow.

Cheers from the Heartland!

by: Theresa Flaherty - Monday, May 2, 2016

Well, it looks like I posted last week’s blog not a moment too soon. CMS released its highly anticipated list (and list upon list upon list) of the Round 2 re-compete contract suppliers.

I am sure you are all out there, busily poring over the list for you area of interest, both products and geography-wise.

And I know poor Kim Brummett and others like her will be poring over all of them.

So, in the interest of sanity, allow me to share initial thoughts on my area of interest: the diabetes category. Conveniently, it's also the only one that's a one-pager.

Last time around, CMS offered approximately 20 mail order contracts (I say approximately, because the number shifted a few times.)

This time around they offered only nine.

A quick comparison of this year’s list with the previous list, reveals that only three of the nine contract suppliers are repeaters. The new list also reveals that of the nine, four were among the top 10 providers in the category in the HME Databank in 2014.

So, first question, what kind of impact will reducing the number of mail-order suppliers by half have on a. beneficiary access and b. the suppliers themselves?

The second question is how these companies, will make any money off the new super low pricing?

It remains to be seen.

On a side note, scanning the websites of the new suppliers whose names I didn’t recognize, I stumbled across something I hadn’t seen before: a medical ID bracelet with a QR code. This way, emergency workers can scan the code and pull up what I would assume is a medical profile that’s a bit more comprehensive then a few engrave words can ever provide.

For all I know, this has been around since about the time I let my subscription to Diabetes Forecast expire (I renewed in February and got my first issue last week, it’s good to be back!).

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