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by: Elizabeth Deprey - Thursday, August 8, 2013

More and more lately, when I ask providers “What’s new?” they talk about their retail efforts. Either they’re just getting started, amping them up or opening up new locations to continue growing their retail income. 

I spoke a little while ago to Eric Hagen, who’s moving to a space in October that will have three times the showroom space. What’s the secret to his success? Understanding why his customers come in the door.

There’s a key difference between big box retailers and HMEs branching into the retail market, he said. HME customers don’t want to buy HME, he said—they need it.

“We have a business of need,” he said. “People come in because they need something. They go to big boxes for fun. This is a totally different retail experience.”

Instead of the large, vacant aisles at a big box store, retailing HME means focusing on one-on-one time with customers. A lot of people come into the store not knowing exactly what they’re looking for or what they might need. 

That’s where well-trained, helpful employees come in—all employees, even the delivery team.

“We educate every employee so we don’t miss out on those auxiliary sales—like mentioning bed sheets when you’re delivering a bed,” he said. 

Of course, price is also a big factor: People might come in needing a CPAP, and be willing to spend some money to get a pillow or other accessory—but the price has to be right, he says. 

“They may want to spend money, but they don’t want to spend a lot of money,” he told me. 

With all the retail-focused conference sessions and HME providers willing to share the benefits of their experience, this blog post might be white noise to you. Ask a provider who’s doing great at retail what the secret is, and, invariably, you’ll hear “customer service.” It seems pretty obvious to you guys, but it isn’t to everyone.

I had an experience with an online retailer—I found a quilt I liked on Pinterest, and wanted to buy the pattern. I did a Google image search and found the company, but, after searching their website for 10 minutes or so, couldn’t find the pattern. I emailed them, asking about it, and this is the response I got:

 

This was a pattern that I designed for a fabric line that we kitted. It was only was applicable to that line of fabric and does not exist as a separate pattern.

 

It doesn’t exist? Really? You don’t have this file anywhere in your computer or file cabinet and could send me a copy if I sent you $5? 

Great. Thanks for nothing. I couldn’t help thinking that if this was an HME provider, they’d bend over backwards to give me what I wanted or needed. Alas. 

That, my friends, is the difference between HME and everyone else's idea of retail.

 

by: Elizabeth Deprey - Friday, August 2, 2013

I have to thank National Seating and Mobility for promoting Handicap This last Friday on their Twitter account, @MobilityNSM.

Just the name, Handicap This, has so much punch to it—I had to check it out. 

Apparently, friends Mike Berkson and Tim Wambach travel the country as motivational speakers. Mike has cerebral palsy, but the message isn’t about that: it’s about doing more with what you have.

The guys have a YouTube channel where they post trailers for their speaking engagements and a web series. I watched a couple of each, and I’ll be back for more of the web series. 

In one episode, Mike can’t get the lift to lower in his van, so he’s trapped in there for hours while his friends, and, later, Mobility Works, try to get him out. In another, Mike and Tim confront a lady who illegally parked in a handicap spot. The web series has 13 episodes, as far as I can tell. The most recent one exposes the difficulties Mike faced while traveling. 

On the heels of watching Mike and Tim confront the illegal parker, I came across this article about a guy banned from a grocery store after confronting an illegal parker—letting the air out of her tires. Oops. That might be taking it a bit far, but it made me think about how frustrating it must be, just to do normal, everyday things like grocery shop, when there are all these added complications. 

I don’t know how much of this goes on in our area. Parking in Maine, for the most part, seems to be pretty available—although the Old Port and Maine Mall (Not too far from HME News World HQ) can be a little tricky.

Do you guys see a lot of this in your area? Have you ever done anything about it? Comment below or tweet @hme_elizabeth and let me know. And let me know what you think about Handicap This.

 

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by: Elizabeth Deprey - Thursday, July 25, 2013

I know Round 2 of competitive bidding is at the forefront of most of our readers’ minds. Reading the responses of the latest HME NewsPoll, the news is terrible, although not surprising. Things are not going well (see Liz’s story).

Still, with all the difficulties there, all the confusion and patient access issues, stakeholders I’ve talked to recently still have a lot to say about the ever-present headache of audits. 

The accounts are outrageous—audits on old wheelchairs provided to people who are now dead; audits on commodes provided at the same time as walkers; issues with “illegible” physician signatures; approving some but not all parts of a power wheelchair; and, like Liz recently covered, audits because of incarcerated Medicare patients.

Still, a recent phone call with Greg Packer at VGM’s U.S. Rehab took me by surprise. 

He said he’s hearing about claims that have already been audited getting hit a second time. 

“We’ve heard about the SMRC coming in and re-auditing claims—is this what you’re talking about?” I asked him. 

“Sometimes,” he said. “Other times, people are getting prepay audits, then the RAC is coming in later.”

Here comes the crazy (er?) part:

“We’re seeing claims people won after going all the way to the ALJ getting re-audited,” he said. 

“What?!?”

“Yes, and we’ve seen that in more than one pace. It’s alarming.”

Alarming is right. Not does it boggle my mind that CMS doesn’t trust the decisions of the administrative law judges, it’s a waste of time and resources—on both the provider and CMS’s part. 

“If Congress doesn’t know about this, they should,” Packer said.

One gentleman who had a claim that was green-lighted by an ALJ get re-audited is trying to let Congress know—speaking out on VGM’s Speak4DME.com. Check out the video here. Share your stories, too, while you’re over there. The point of the site is to compile stories for lawmakers to see, and hopefully bring about some change. 

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by: Elizabeth Deprey - Thursday, July 18, 2013

Even if I hadn’t been on vacation Monday, I wouldn’t have been at the Disabilities Caucus CRT briefing. See, these types of events are hosted by congressional offices, for congressional offices. 

So I’ve been calling around to people who were there to come up with a report for you guys for this coming Monday’s Newswire. 

What’d I miss? Well, on center stage were familiar, eloquent advocates, NCART’s Don Clayback (left) and United Spinal’s Paul Tobin (far right), explaining what complex rehab is and what S. 948 and H.R. 942 can do to protect it. There was also a new voice: college professor Adam Lloyd (pictured here between Don Clayback and Paul Tobin), a wheelchair user who spoke to the staffers about what having the right equipment can enable a person to accomplish.

I called Lloyd for my story, and found him to be just as smart and well-spoken as everyone told me he was. 

“I’m a C4 quadriplegic and have been for 30 years,” he told me. “I know this equipment is vital—I have a power wheelchair with a chin control. Knock on wood, I haven’t had a pressure sore for 30 years, and I’ve been able to earn several degrees, teach, and be engaged in my community. I’m able to live the life I want to live.”

He told me he wanted to let the staffers know how important the right equipment is to people with disabilities, and the role the right equipment can play in preventing medical complications. Setting up a separate benefit for CRT will give Medicare and Medicaid a better way to make sure people get the equipment they need, provided by qualified companies, he said. 

This briefing was his first time advocating for CRT, but he sounds like a veteran. Not only does Lloyd have a great story to tell, he seems to completely understand the CRT separate benefit’s purpose. 

He wasn’t too nervous addressing the 100-or-so staffers in DC this week—he’s used to addressing a classroom, after all. The key, he said, is to speak to your expertise.

“I have 30 years of life experience and can help others understand the importance of this equipment,” he said. “It’s not as difficult or intimidating as it seems.”

I saved his best quote for my story—you’ll have to check it out in the Newswire. You’ll see why I don’t think this will be the last we hear from the newest voice in CRT advocacy. 

 

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by: Elizabeth Deprey - Friday, June 28, 2013

You guys might remember I wrote a blog last year when Sundance Channel came out with a new reality show, "Push Girls," that focuses on women with wheelchairs in LA. Today, I got to talk to one of those "Push Girls," Chelsie Hill. Here's a sneak preview of the Q&A I'm working on:

 

In the years since being injured in a 2010 accident, Chelsie Hill, 20, has spent her time advocating against distracted driving and for people with spinal cord injuries. As one of the stars of Sundance Channel’s reality TV show “Push Girls,” she makes appearances around the country with her dance troupe to raise awareness about distracted driving and spinal cord injuries—including a July visit to the Greater Texas Rehab Providers Council Annual Conference. She spoke to HME News recently about her goals while traveling the country.

HME News: What’s it like being part of a hit reality show?  

Chelsie Hill: I didn’t realize how powerful it was until I saw it on TV. It really breaks down stereotypes—it’s doing what it was meant to do. And it has really opened some doors for me and my mission, the Walk and Roll Foundation. It's weird seeing myself on TV though, and when I'm out, people go "Oh my gosh, it's Chelsie!" But it's awesome.

HME: What is the foundation’s goal?

Hill: To educate, inspire and provide. I want to educate people about distracted driving and spinal cord injuries, and inspire them with our dance team, Hotwheelz. This is a group of girls in wheelchairs who’ve been through something traumatic, but they’re still smiling. We also want to raise money to provide an exercise facility for people with spinal cord injuries in northern California. 

HME: What role does your mobility equipment play in helping you achieve these goals? 

Hill: It’s one of the most important things. You need to get involved in your community, get a good wheelchair and find something to be passionate about, whether it’s sports or dancing. You have to find something you think you cannot do and do it, keep pushing, and keep trying.

   Photo credit: http://www.sundancechannel.com/series/push-girls/cast/chelsie-hill

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by: Elizabeth Deprey - Friday, June 21, 2013

Pictured here: Roll on Capitol Hill attendees Mindy Van Kuren and Kesha Pilot, standing wheelchair user, both from Arkansas, attend a meeting with Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and United Spinal CEO Paul Tobin. Notice the excellent representation of United Spinal's signature color, orange.

I’m sure you guys were following the progress of the second Roll on Capitol Hill along with me on Twitter this week as more than 80 consumers hit the Hill to promote the CRT bills and other issues affecting the disability community. I also got the scoop afterwards from Alex Bennewith, VP of government relations for United Spinal.

The big news: Consumers doubled their number of Capitol Hill visits to 200 up from 100 at last year’s first-ever Roll on Capitol Hill. 

HME-related issues got a good reception during Hill visits, says Bennewith.

“We got some verbal commitments on CRT and bidding as well as on some other issues,” she said. 

Besides doubling the Hill visits, another big change this year was a push toward social media. My Twitter feed this week was full of #ROCH2013 as participants tweeted comments and photos about the keynote session, Hill visits and the event in general. 

Bennewith says embracing social media is key for events like this. 

“That’s how our advocates like to communicate with each other,” she said. 

There were a lot of new faces on the Hill joining last year’s attendees, and Bennewith says she hopes it’ll be bigger and better next year. It’s important for consumers to get out there and advocate, she said.

“By participating in the Roll on Capitol Hill, consumers realize they have a voice,” she said. “They feel empowered. It’s important that they realize that just by speaking out, they can help make their situation better.”

It seems that the consumers who attended this year got that message. 

Bryan McCormick, who visited the Hill from Pennsylvania, said:

“The greatest benefit to me is that it has educated me on the political process and important issues that could impact persons with disabilities. I now want to be more engaged with my local government because I realize that it can enable me to have an impact on the lives of others. ROCH has empowered me, so I can now disseminate that education to my group members and peers, which will enable them to influence legislation that could affect them. This has been a life changing experience. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this group.”

Whether it’s educating consumers about their own power or educating lawmakers about what’s needed for wheelchair users to truly access their communities, Bennewith says the event was a success.

“The whole point is to make the consumer voice louder, to make sure that voice is heard,” she said. “I think we accomplished that this year.” 

 

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by: Elizabeth Deprey - Monday, June 10, 2013

This might be one of the best success stories I’ve seen from an association working to create awareness. 

You might remember last year, when NMEDA launched the first National Mobility Awareness Month

The goal: educate seniors, veterans, caregivers, and people with disabilities about wheelchair accessible vehicles and adaptive mobility equipment options available to them to live an active and mobile lifestyle.

The association sought “local heroes” to award wheelchair accessible vehicles to at the end of the month. 

Apparently, the allure of accessible transportation was enough to rouse people all over the U.S. and Canada to nominate and vote for individuals—enough so that NMEDA decided to sponsor the month again this May. 

The great thing about this is, it isn’t just people who need accessible vehicles or their families that awareness is spreading to. Local TV and newspaper reporters are picking up the candidates for human-interest stories. 

I’ve seen at least two such stories a week since the nomination period began. Here is one example of a wheelchair user from Tennessee announcing she was a semifinalist. 

Those local news stories and NMEDA’s social media efforts have reached an unbelievable amount of people. 

“It has been another great year for Mobility Awareness Month,” stated Dave Hubbard, executive director and CEO of NMEDA in a June 7 press release. “We made more than 1.2 billion impressions through the media and social media engagements throughout the campaign and hope that we’ve helped those in need of mobility solutions find necessary resources. We are equally excited about the 1,225 people entered into the Local Heroes campaign and look forward to how their lives are changed and specifically those of our three winners.”

Now that we’re officially done with May and National Mobility Awareness Month, NMEDA has announced the winners. Those winners will likely get mentioned by their local news sources—again building awareness, despite the fact that the official awareness month is over. 

…and the winners are:

Abigail Carter from Lexington, Ky.

Jeff Scott from Victoria, B.C.

Steve Herbst from Palatine, Ill.

 

Maybe other HME groups working to build awareness can pick up a few strategies from NMEDA?

 

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by: Elizabeth Deprey - Friday, May 31, 2013

Of course you remember the complex rehab industry’s efforts coming to fruition in March, when Reps. Crowley and Sensenbrenner introduced H.R. 942.

Stakeholders entered the next stage in the game (netting a senate companion bill) with a huge advantage—a bill in hand to show senators exactly what they were looking for, and proof that dozens of House members were already standing behind it. 

They also had a huge disadvantage—there are only 100 senators, compared to 435 House members, and those people are insanely busy. 

After months of effort, consumer advocates, providers, manufacturers and industry leaders were able to make their voices heard: on May 16, Sens. Charles Schumer and Thad Cochran introduced S. 948, the separate benefit Senate companion bill

Who are these men who made time in their extremely busy schedules to stand up for complex rehab?

In honor of Memorial Day, I’ve found these photos of Sens. Schumer (in blue) and Cochran (in green.) 

 

The first senator who agreed to sponsor the bill is Sen. Charles Schumer, commonly known as “Chuck.” He’s another New Yorker (What are providers doing in that state, and can they do that in all the other states, please?)

According to his website, he’s been in public service for 30 years. He was elected to the Senate in 1998, and kicked off his first term by announcing he would visit each of New York's 62 counties every year, a tradition he continues today. He is chair of the Senate Rules Committee and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, Judiciary Committee, and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.

Sen. Thad Cochran has also spent many years in public service. He was elected to the House in 1972,1974 and 1976. 

In 1978, he joined the Senate, becoming the first Republican in more than 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi. 

He's been serving there ever since, and is now a senior Senate Republican. He’s currently a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Rules Committee, and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

Forty representatives have joined Reps. Crowley and Sensenbrenner on H.R. 942. Here’s hoping more lawmakers join them, and Sens. Schumer and Cochran, in the session ahead. 

by: Elizabeth Deprey - Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Don’t let the title of this blog fool you. Of course, there are still providers out there. 

But since the Round 2 rates and contract winners were announced, I’ve noticed a lot of the ladies and gentlemen I’ve gotten used to calling are getting out of the game.  

Last month, I tried to call Craig Daley, president of Ormand Beach, Fla.-based Comfort Medical Supply. I first chatted with him last August about being one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest growing companies

I also talked to him for a story I wrote about keeping patient data safe.

He was a smart guy with big plans and a lot to say.

When I called in April to see how things were going, his company had shut down. 

Just today, I called Bill Armstrong, a gentleman who is very active on Colorado’s provider association, CAMES. I’ve appreciated chatting with him a few times about things going on at Centennial, Colo.-based American Oxygen Kompany. He told me today that he won contracts for oxygen but not CPAP, and that his company is for sale. 

He’s planning to take the summer off once the sale goes through, and won’t be getting back into HME. 

Other providers I call have recordings reporting disconnected numbers. Either they’ve gone out of business or sold their assets to a company big enough to find some economies of scale.

It seems to me the closures predicted by competitive bidding opponents are starting to take effect. I’m noticing fewer providers on the ground. 

Here’s hoping the crowd at the AAHomecare Legislative Conference makes sure Congress notices too, and puts a stop to it. Otherwise it’ll be the patients asking, “Where have all the providers gone?”

by: Elizabeth Deprey - Monday, May 13, 2013

This will be my 52nd blog here at HME News—about a year’s worth of comments on competitive bidding, social media and mobility issues. 

I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of how many hits my blogs get so I can try to keep writing on topics you guys are most interested in. 

Here’s the top 10 On the Move blogs for the past year:

10. The mystery of the antique wheelchair

9. Can't even get arrested in this town

8. Outcry needs to go viral 

7. Dropping Medicare like a hot potato

6. What’s in a name?

5. Being a Grinchy Grinch

4. The men behind the bill

3. Why are you keeping good news to yourself?

2. Surprises in The Scooter Store's testimony

1. Round 2 reactions: What now?

Not surprisingly, the top blog has to do with the top issue of the day: competitive bidding. Also not a surprise: The Scooter Store drew a lot of eyes. Those topics tend to interest you guys when we’re talking about news stories as well. 

My third most-read blog has to do with me whining about you guys posting to Facebook instead of letting me know when you’re doing cool stuff. (I’d prefer you do both!) It was the first social media blog I did, and I’ve tried to hit on a few other social media topics over the year—let me know if there’s any you’d like me to look into or chat about.

The men behind the bill blog was fun to write—I was curious about the gentlemen complex rehab providers had persuaded over to the separate benefit cause, and it looks like you guys were too. I’m planning a follow-up blog when Sen. Schumer introduces the Senate companion bill. 

What’s in a name?—that’s about NRRTS changing the “S” in CRTS to “Specialist” instead of “Supplier.” I wasn’t expecting the huge level of interest in that one. I guess you guys were really keen to make sure the CRTS title reflects your expertise and commitment. 

Dropping Medicare like a hot potato, Being a Grinchy Grinch and Outcry needs to go viral also touched on competitive bidding. Let me tell you—it’s on your minds and it’s on all of our minds here at HME News. 

Can’t even get arrested in this town stemmed from an ongoing situation in New York—the serious lack of accessible travel options in NYC. The taxi service, disability rights activists and city officials have been going around about what to do about that lack; meanwhile, protestors in wheelchairs got arrested and then police had to sort out the issue of transporting them to and from the police station. If only they could’ve taken a taxi! 

The mystery of the antique wheelchair was another fun one to write. A NRRTS registrant posted a photo of an antique wheelchair on the NRRTS board, and members and I joined the case to find out how old it was. 

So that’s what you’ve been interested in this past year. We’ll have to see what next year brings!

 

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