HME vs. Amazon: Providers help out—for a fee

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Friday, November 9, 2018

YARMOUTH, Maine – HME providers have always held the competitive edge over online stores when it comes to service, they say. But now, that service may come with a price tag.

Provider Josh Eckstein recently assembled a mobility scooter that had been bought online and shipped in pieces.

“I told him it would be a $150 charge,” said Eckstein, vice president of Complete Home Care in Buffalo, N.Y., “and it would have been cheaper had he bought it from me.”

The customer paid up.

It’s a shift in mindset for providers, who in the past may have been reluctant to charge for services. But, with decreased reimbursement and online giant Amazon taking steps into the HME market—it recently announced the launch of a branded blood glucose testing system and blood pressure monitor—they simply can’t afford to give away their time anymore, they say.

“Five or 10 years ago, you could afford to help people that bought something somewhere else—not even just online,” said Eric Hagen, president and owner of Bayside Home Medical in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. “(Now), providers are either turning them away or charging them for those services. We do a little bit of both.”

Respiratory products like portable oxygen concentrators and, increasingly, CPAP machines and supplies, make up the bulk of what people seek help with, providers say.

Integrated Home Services charges anywhere from $25 to $50 to repair or assemble a product bought elsewhere, but it will help out with the small stuff where and when it can, says Mark Hatch, president and owner of the Rockford, Ill.-based company.

“If it’s a loose rollator wheel or a manual wheelchair missing arm pads, we definitely won’t charge for those,” he said. “Or maybe it’s someone traveling and they forgot part of their CPAP mask; if we’ve got it in our sample closet, we’ll give it to them.”

It makes good business sense to be helpful because they might convert an online shopper into a new customer, say providers.

“You may not see those people right away, but I think a lot will think twice about where they buy their next piece of equipment, so if you can, give them a good deal and try to break even,” said Hagen. “Sometimes, it’s worth it.’”