Risky business: Heartland attendees highlight education, networking

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Friday, June 16, 2017

WATERLOO, Iowa – On the battlefield that is Medicare, HME providers can either retreat or fight back—either way there is risk, keynote Kevin Lacz told Heartland Conference attendees Tuesday morning.

“There are risks you take everywhere you go,” Lacz, a former Navy Seal and best-selling author, who co-starred in the movie, American Sniper. “The reward is on the other side. You need to learn to read and react, and always reassess.”

The 16th Annual VGM Heartland Conference, which was held June 12-15, featured more than 70 exhibitors and a full slate of sessions covering 10 tracks, from billing and reimbursement to big ideas. The event drew more than 1,000 attendees, including 51 first-time attendees, and 136 speakers, including 63 first-time attendees.

With providers battling audits, competitive bidding and onerous regulations every day, Lacz’s metaphor resonates.

Fortunately, there are bright spots. Wayne van Halem, president of The van Halem Group, told attendees during the session “2017 Mid-Year Audit Update” that he finally feels like “CMS is sort of loosening up.”

“They have a huge appeals backlog they have to resolve by 2021,” he said. “In the past, if they were on the fence, (they would deny the claim), and they are now saying pay the claim.”

van Halem said stakeholders have been trying to persuade CMS to expand the “wildly successful” settlement conference facilitation pilot to all four Medicare jurisdictions. The pilot has looked at more than 30,000 claims so far, with an 82% overturn rate.

The frustration level with the audit process was evident during another session, the “SBA/CMS Panel Discussion.”

“The process is so tremendous,” said provider Ben Rachel. “The claims process, the audit process, the appeals process. What are we not giving you that you need to see?”

Tangita Daramola, the CMS competitive acquisition ombudsman, said she wants to hear from providers.

“What are the problem-solving opportunities to make sure beneficiaries get what they need and you get paid,” she said. “Please don’t hesitate to contact us. You do a tremendous job in the field working with seniors and the disabled.”

Get out your notepad

Provider Rick Wyche has attended Heartland for several years, largely for the networking opportunities.

“We like the opportunity to put a face to a name and learn what are providers are doing to success,” said Wyche, director of business development for After the Fall in Woodbridge, Va.

James Rogers said he met lots of “brilliant” providers, even chasing one down after a session.

“She’s on the West Coast and I am on the East Coast,” said Rogers, CEO of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Phoenix Rehab & Mobility and PPS Orthotic and Prosthetic Services. “She had all kinds of great ideas—I got out my notepad.”

Save the date

Next year's Heartland will be June 25-27—a little later and a day shorter.

“We decided to move next year’s conference to later in June to accommodate other industry conferences and graduation seasons around the country,” said Clint Geffert, president of VGM & Associates. “And, we decided to shorten the conference by a day in response to feedback from participants. They overwhelmingly feel Heartland is the best educational conference in HME and felt they were getting the education they needed in two days.”