This is Elizabeth Deprey reporting to you live from the first-ever National CRT Leadership and Advocacy Conference. Keep an eye on my tweets for some updates. There was so much info at the first event, an industry panel discussion, Twitter could never do it justice.
You can thank my iPhone for the blurriness of this photo of some of the smartest people in the complex rehab industry getting ready to hold the panel discussion. What a chance to hear Cara Bachenheimer of Invacare, Mike Ballard of NSM, Paul Bergantino of Numotion, Scott Meuser of Pride Mobility, Mike Proffitt of Sunrise Medical and Tom Rolick of Permobil—all in one place, all talking about the future of the industry.
The mood here is optimistic. HR 942 is on the floor and the group here plans to hit the Hill and continue to build its momentum later this week.
"I think we're in the best position we've ever been in," Don Clayback says. There's awareness in Congress, stakeholders are making inroads on the state level, and there's better collaboration between members of the CRT community—manufacturers, consumer groups, clinicians and providers, he said.
Paul Bergantino opened the panel's talk with a discussion about challenges and cirtical success factors. "We all recongize we can't continue to operate as we've always operated," he said.
Top on the list for improvements: service and repairs, which are a low-margin, high-touch process for providers. They're also critical to the clients providers work with. Also on the to-do list: the industry's reputation.
"I'm concerned," Bergantino said.
Mainstream news stories about mobility haven't been favorable lately. The separate benefit, though, will be a "game changer," Bergantino said. "This will help outsiders understand who we are," he said. The industry needs to rally and support NCART's Medicaid efforts. "We need more firepower," he said.
Mike Ballard, addressing the same topic, said efforts need to focus on the "Three Rs": respect, reimbursment and returns.
"We are making progress, but it's glacial," he said.
To gain respect, the industry needs to self-regulate; choose one accredititing body to build a brand with; and pull the ATP certification from anyone who doesn't adhere to the industry's standards. Ballard says the industry needs to treat payers like customers instead of acting like they're the enemy, and truly show them what CRT is about.
"Our industry grew up on the wrong side of the tracks," he said, and is now lumped in with DME, which faces heavy bureaucracy because of "past sins."
Cara Bachenheimer shed some light on the current climate on the Hill. In today's environment, "there needs to be significant compromise" to get anything done, she said.
"Our issue is not partisan, and that bodes well," she said. However, once the president drops his budget this week, all talk on the Hill will center around that. Top issues will be the debt ceiling and health care.
"We need to make sure we're making ourselves visable," Bachenheimer said.
Making progress on the Hill involves the right mix of policy and politics, she said. "It is tough—that's how the founders designed it," Bachenheimer said. There's no good news to be had on audits, she said, but she expects the MPP bill to come next week and says there are efforts underway to at least postpone comeptitive bidding.
Scott Meuser says there's lots of innovation on the way. The reimbursement challenges may dampen efforts a bit, so more people need to get involved advocating for the industry. "We need to have the ability to serve clients the way we want to, the way they deserve," Meuser said. "We need to get past the activists doing everything—it's the same people at every conference and it's only 10% of the industry."
The industry is fighting a good fight, but "there's a lot of apathy in this town," Meuser said. Still, manufacturers will continue to invest in innovation for CRT, because clinicians and providers embrace the new products. "Innovation is appreciated and rewarded with business," he said. "The coolest part of being a manufacturer is to innovate."
Mike Proffitt says looking at functional necessity will drive innovation, but the industry needs to prove outcomes. Proof of effectiveness from manufacturer studies appear biased. That proof can go to payers instead of the soundbites they hear on TV. With reimbursment cuts, the industry is going to be "risk-adverse," Proffitt said. "We're going to work on the things that matter most," he said. Top on the list: servicability.
Tom Rolick says he's been in the industry for 20 years, and complex rehab today has more resources than it has ever had. While competitive bidding has and will hurt the entire HME industry, the fact that CRT was carved out has given the idea of a separate identity a boost, he said. "Where we're at is a very good place," he said.
While consolidation in CRT could reach a point where companies are too big, we've got a long way before that happens, Rolick said. In the meantime, the bigger companies will be stronger, more stable and have more brainpower. "It's amazing to me the opportunities we have," he said.
These leaders will join others in the CRT indusry to tell the story of complex rehab on the Hill tomorrow. Let's hope they can do what Bachenheimer suggested and ensure CRT remains visible on the legislative radar.