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Providers struggle with logistics, costs during disasters

Providers struggle with logistics, costs during disasters

YARMOUTH, Maine – The results of a new survey on the challenges HME providers face during disasters will be an impactful talking point for the Emergency Preparedness for Home Medical Equipment Suppliers Committee and CMS, stakeholders say. 

Among the results of the survey: 78% of respondents say getting equipment to patients in need is their biggest hurdle during a disaster. 

“When you start talking about snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles to get to patients through ice storms and blizzards – it’s definitely eye-opening for some people,” said Emily Harkin, director of operations for VGM Government Relations, which administered the survey. 

The committee was formed earlier this year when southern states like Texas were hit with an unexpected winter storm that left many patients who rely on oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment without power for days. A number of members met in person during the Heartland Conference in June for a conference call with Tangita Daramola, the competitive acquisition ombudsman for CMS, as well as other agency officials. 

The largest portion of respondents, 33%, report that preparing for a disaster can cost up to $5,000. That’s a big reason why one of the committee’s main focuses is working with CMS on more adequate policies and reimbursement for HME during disasters. 

“We have to get to CMS and have them tell us an easier way for people to get what they need,” said Dawn Seek, a member of the committee and executive director of the Maryland National Capitol Home Care Association, which receives funding each year to create and update guides and handouts that providers can use to prepare for disasters. “Also, the reimbursement is supposedly there from CMS, but it’s not always easy for providers to get it.” 

While there have always been disasters, they’re increasing in frequency and they’re cropping up in unusual places – take that winter storm in Texas, for example. Layer in static competitive bidding reimbursement, supply chain challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic, and providers are at a breaking point, stakeholders say. 

“The pandemic is what put everyone over the edge,” Meek said. “I don’t think the government or anyone outside of our industry understands that if home care isn’t functioning, no part of health care can function.” 

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