Travel O2 drives MED initiative

Friday, May 31, 2002

LUBBOCK, Texas - The MED Group has begun driving an in-house initiative to simplify the administrative burdens that come with providing travel oxygen to respiratory patients, and, in turn, make members more competitive with large suppliers like Lincare and Apria.

"We can spend hours on the phone trying to get a travel program set up for one of our beneficiaries," said MED member Steve Knoll, president of Knoll Patient Supply in Topeka, Kan. "It is time intensive and equipment intensive to give an oxygen patient the capability of traveling."

When it comes to providing travel oxygen, Lincare and Apria, with hundreds of branches, hold an advantage over small independent providers. But MED could turn the table and create an advantage for members by somehow joining the group's nearly 800 locations providing respiratory service into a travel network, Knoll said.

Currently, MED members, like many HMEs, line up providers and oxygen services for their traveling respiratory patients, even though Medicare doesn't require them to do so. Finding providers along the beneficiary's travel route is one challenge. Negotiating what to pay that provider is another.

If complicated, making the plans could consume a month's profit on a patient, said Joe Lewarski, director of MED's National Respiratory Network.

As an improvement, MED's exploring an a Internet based program where participating members (and possibly non- members) would agree to a pre-set price for various oxygen services. To locate participating providers, an HME would type in a zip code or town, a process similar to provider locators that operate on many HME manufacturers' sites. The next step would be to e-mail the provider(s) and inquire if they could handle the patient.

(Under its existing travel oxygen program, MED provides members with a list of other members around the country who provide oxygen, but the provider must still handle the time-consuming logistics and negotiations. VGM's Freedom Link, which handles 15,000 calls a year, lines up providers along a patient's itinerary but lets the providers negotiate payment.)

Lewarski hopes to have a new program in place by year's end and sees the need for it increasing as more baby boomers enter retirement and Medicare beneficiaries choose to travel by a mode other than plane due to Sept. 11.

"Our job it to take care of our client, and we are looking at this as a better way to do that," Knoll said. HME