WASHINGTON – Enrollment in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans in 2015 is projected to increase to a new all-time high, CMS announced Sept. 18.
Premiums are expected to remain affordable, as well, the agency says.
“Seniors and people with disabilities are benefiting from a transparent and competitive marketplace for Medicare health and drug plans,” stated CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in a press release.
The annual open enrollment period for Medicare and drug plans begins Oct. 15.
Between 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was enacted, and 2015, enrollment in MA plans is expected to increase 42% and premiums is expected to decrease 6%.
For 2015, MA plans submitted average premiums that were $2.94 higher, but CMS estimates premiums will be only $1.30 higher because more beneficiaries are expected to enroll in lower cost plans.
“The vast majority of MA enrollees will face little or no premium increase for next year, with 61% of beneficiaries not seeing any premium increase at all,” the agency states.
The quality of MA plans continues to improve, as well, CMS says. About 40% of plans will receive four or more stars for 2015, an increase of about 6% from 2014.
WASHINGTON – Accountable care organizations (ACOs) in the Pioneer ACO Model and Medicare Shared Savings Program generated more than $372 million in savings in their second and first years, respectively, CMS reported Sept. 16.
The Pioneer ACOs generated estimated total savings of more than $96 million and qualified for shared savings payments of $68 million. They saved the Medicare Trust Fund about $41 million.
Broken down, 11 Pioneer ACOs earned shared savings, three generated shared losses and three elected to defer reconciliation until after the third year.
Fifty-three Shared Savings Program ACOs held spending to $652 million below their targets and earned performance payments of more than $300 million. One ACO overspent its target by $10 million and owed shared losses of $4 million. They will save the Trust Fund about $345 million.
Additionally, 52 Shared Savings Program ACOs reduced costs compared to their benchmark, but they did not qualify for shared savings.
While CMS characterized the savings as “encouraging,” Kaiser Health News characterized them as “teensy sums in the context of a program that spends half a trillion dollars a year on care for the elderly and disabled.”
WASHINGTON – A legislative fly-in on Sept. 10 spearheaded by The MED Group and supported by AAHomecare resulted in 100 meetings with lawmakers.
“These bills are gaining momentum and our presence on the Hill should make a difference,” said Jeff Woodham, senior vice president and general manager of The MED Group, in a press release.
Currently, the bid bill has 40 co-sponsors; the audit bill, 24. At least 9 and 10 co-sponsors, respectively, were added to the bills just this week.
AAHomecare officials helped to manage the appointment process, provided briefing materials and joined in on the meetings.
“Working together on our HME legislative priorities—through back-home meetings, letters to Capitol Hill, and face-to-face meetings in D.C.—will ultimately be what makes the difference in getting these bills passed and enacted into law,” said Tom Ryan, CEO of AAHomecare, in the release.
Provider Jackie Semrad, who attended the event, said even though stakeholders have been touting bidding and audit reform for some time now, the industry’s message needs constant reinforcement.
“They understand that the bidding program is flawed and that this bill will address one of the biggest issues—the fact that current bids are not binding,” said Semrad, the compliance officer for Reliable Medical Supply, in the release. “Most were not aware of this part of the bid program until we educated them. This is one reason why we need to continue to talk to our members of Congress.”
YARMOUTH, Maine – A defiant 60% of the respondents to last week’s HME NewsPoll say they wouldn’t take up CMS on an offer to settle pending appeals in exchange for partial payment.
“I would rather go out of business than give CMS another 32% discount with all the hoops they make us go through,” said Jody Wright of Rocky Mountain Medical Equipment in Lakewood, Colo. “It’s insulting and I’m going to fight them to the end for every dollar they own my company.”
CMS on Aug. 29 offered a settlement to acute care hospitals and critical care access hospitals to resolve pending appeals of patient status denials in exchange for timely partial payment of 68% of the net payable amount.
A good number of respondents asked why they should help CMS get out of a sticky wicket that the agency itself has created, one where about half a million appeals are tied up at the administrative law judge (ALJ) level.
“Medicare has set the allowables; they should pay their portion of the allowable plus interest if the claim is not paid within 30 days,” said Kevin Jones of All American Medical Equipment & Supplies in Oklahoma City. “They are dragging this out. They should be charged late fees and interest.”
Another reason not to take CMS up on its offer, respondents say: The agency might get the wrong idea that providers can make due with 68% of reimbursement.
“Beware of giving them another tool to use against us,” said Ed Huyke of Anything Medical in Bullhead City, Ariz. “It may be used to show that we are currently being overpaid and are willing to accept and can survive with 68%. The offer is not good.”
Some providers said they would accept CMS’s offer—but not without strings attached.
“As long as this settlement wouldn’t affect the timely payment of future claims, I would accept 68% of my audited claim files at this time,” said Ronnie Sleeper of Med Supply Plus in Corinth, Miss. “Also, any settlement would have to stipulate that the claims in question are legitimately filed claims in the first place.”
For the 40% of respondents who say they would accept CMS’s offer, it would be largely a financial decision.
“The administrative cost alone of winning 100% of my over $100,000 of appeals would cost me at least $30,000,” said Mike Coughlin of CVI Medical in Dallas.
MINNEAPOLIS – With the explosion of interest in post-acute care, it’s time for HME providers to get off the sidelines, said the speakers at last week’s HME News Business Summit.
“I can’t think of a more meaningful time for the HME industry to stand up and shine than right now,” said speaker Tom Sayre, vice president of strategy and business development for CHI Health at Home, the national home health services division of Catholic Health Initiatives. “It’s time for the industry to reach out in meaningful ways—that’s what population health management is.”
The Summit, held Sept. 7-9 in Minneapolis, featured sessions that ran the gamut from healthcare reform to investment in HME.
But a common thread throughout: data’s role in helping HME providers secure their rightful position in the post-acute care lineup.
“You have to be a data freak,” said panelist and provider Gregory LoPresti, senior vice president and CEO of Upstate HomeCare. “It’s out there—you just have to collect it.”
Be accountable—to the right patients
It’s time to stop fixating on the 5% of Medicare beneficiaries who consume 60% of Medicare dollars, mostly in the last 18 months of their lives, speaker and consultant Andy Edeburn told attendees.
“Our inability to manage our own behavior will be our demise,” said Edeburn, vice president of continuum strategies for the Health Dimensions Group. “If we manage behavior more efficiently, we can reduce the number of people who get to that 5%.”
Prove your value
In the past, hospitals didn’t care about penalties, but now, hospital admissions and margins are going down, and penalties are going up. That’s an opportunity for HME providers to capitalize on what they have to offer—as long as they have the data to back it up.
“Show them what their readmission rate is, show them what your readmission rate is, and over time,” said speaker Alan Morris, director of business development for HealthCall. “Then tell them, ‘Here’s the evidence to prove it and let’s talk about what this means for your bottom line.’”
Here to stay
As if to underscore the value of home care, a panel of private equity investors told attendees that, despite its challenges, HME is an exciting market to be in.
“This is a market that is not going away,” said panelist Jeff Lipsitz, managing partner with Cortec Group, which has investments in Harmar and 101 Mobility. “No matter what the government tries to do, there is a wave of older folks that want your products and to stay in their homes.”
YARMOUTH, Maine – CMS’s PMD demo is set to arrive in 12 new states in just a few weeks and, for the most part, providers are welcoming it with open arms.
“One of our primary vendors is doing some education on it,” said James Rogers, CEO of Phoenix Rehab and Mobility in Hixson, Tenn., one of the states being added to the demo. “The feedback we’ve received from them is this has been a positive development in the industry and should help out as far as the audits.”
The demo, which requires providers to submit prior authorizations for PMDs, started in seven states in 2012 and is expanding to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Louisiana, Missouri, Washington, New Jersey, Maryland, Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee and Arizona.
Two big reasons for the comfort level of providers in these new states: First, they’re used to submitting prior authorizations for other payers; second, they figure CMS has gotten any bugs with the demo worked out by now.
“We’re not the guinea pigs, so we should be able to flow right into that,” said Bob Miller, president and CEO of Hackettstown, N.J.-based Bach’s Home Health Care.
There are some providers, however, that have heard mixed reviews of the demo, depending on the region. They’re taking a wait-and-see approach before rendering a verdict.
“I think that as long as the process can happen quicker than advanced determination of Medicare coverage, I’m all for it,” said Peter Norman, owner of Bellevue, Wash.-based Bellevue Healthcare. “I’m cautiously optimistic about it, with cautious probably the right emphasis.”
YARMOUTH, Maine – Suppose you were an HME provider supplying a Medicare beneficiary with oxygen therapy through a competitive bidding contract. Suppose the beneficiary also needs non-prescription items like a hospital bed, mattress and other HME for which you don’t have contracts.
Suppose the beneficiary and his or her children want to continue doing business with you, even though you don’t have the contracts. What are your options?
“You can’t sell the equipment to the patient, so we sell the equipment to the daughter or son,” said Tom Inman, president of Virginia Home Medical in Newport News, Va. “They can put a bow on the foot of the bed and call it a present. They’re as happy as can be.”
While industry consultants concede this is a gray area—there are “a ton of different cash arrangements out there,” said one—they recommend providers always get an advance beneficiary notice (ABN).
“When you have knowledge that a piece of equipment is subject to insurance, you’re required to get an ABN,” said Andrea Stark, a reimbursement consultant with MiraVisa. “That protocol is in place to protect the beneficiary and the family, and to make sure everyone knows how the transaction will be treated.”
Here’s one reason why that’s necessary: It’s not uncommon, for example, for the children of a beneficiary not to be on the same page, turning a simple transaction into a complicated one, says Sylvia Toscano, owner of Professional Medical Administrators.
“What we see a lot is that one of the kids will make an arrangement and then another will get involved later on and say, ‘That’s a Medicare-covered item; I don’t know why you took our money,’” she said. “If they go to Medicare, it becomes our word against theirs and refund requirements could come into play.”
This is almost a nice problem to have, says Rob Baumhover, director of retail programs for The VGM Group.
“The nice thing is that it means you’ve built that relationship with the children, and they’re the ones that want mom and dad to be taken care of by you,” he said. “Then, when the time comes for them to need your services, they’ll stick with you, too.”
Inman says he’s comfortable selling non-prescription equipment to the children of his patients without an ABN.
“If you have an ABN, you’re admitting that the Medicare patient is your customer,” he said. “They’re not my customer; I’m not getting anything from them. I’m selling for cash to the public.”
Inman says Medicare is making it so hard to get equipment that many families with loved ones in need are saying, “Screw it.”
“You have to be creative,” he said.
WASHINGTON – Contractors conducting pre-pay audits and prior authorizations are required to load that information into the RAC Data Warehouse, CMS has said in response to an AAHomecare inquiry. “Contractors conducting pre-pay audits are required to load that information into the RAC Data warehouse,” CMS said. “Claims that are paid through one of the prior authorization programs have a unique tracking number that follows the claim and is included in all data shared with the Recovery Auditors. Claims with a unique tracking number are excluded from Recovery Auditor review.” AAHomecare said in a bulletin that it was pleased with CMS’s statement and plans to work with DME MACs provider outreach and education groups to ensure such processes are in place.
Twelve lawmakers sign on to separate benefit bill
WASHINGTON – Twelve more lawmakers have lent their support to H.R. 942 and S. 948, bills that would create a separate benefit for complex rehab. With the 11 representatives who signed on in August, there are now 159 co-sponsors in the House, NCART Executive Director Don Clayback wrote in a bulletin. There are 21 co-sponsors in the Senate. “It shows that the ongoing communication between CRT stakeholders and their members of Congress is paying off,” Clayback wrote. “The additions maintain solid bipartisan support and include members of the key congressional committees that have jurisdiction over the Medicare program.”
Dick’s Homecare buys assets from Walnut Medical Services
ALTOONA, Pa. – Dick’s Homecare has purchased certain assets of the Lewistown, Pa., facility of Walnut Medical Services. The deal provides operational efficiencies to both companies in the central Pennsylvania market, according to a press release from Duckridge Advisors, which served as the M&A adviser for Walnut Medical Services. Dick’s Homecare is one of the largest providers of HME and related products and services in the rural Pennsylvania market with eight locations. It will consolidate Walnut Medical’s facility into its own facility there. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Active Controls, Quantum Rehab expand strategic alliance
SEWELL, N.J. – Active Controls alternate drive controls are now available pre-assembled on Quantum Rehab power wheelchairs as part of an expanded strategic alliance between the two companies. The line of midline specialty controls includes head arrays, chin controls and mini-proportional joysticks. “All of them are fully compatible with our Q-Logic line of electronics, so the expansion of our alliance makes applications even more seamless for our providers,” stated Jay Brislin, vice president of Quantum Rehab, in a press release. Active Controls and Quantum Rehab first formed an alliance earlier this year. To order, providers must request a quote for the desired control using the quote generator on the Active Controls website. Once approved, the company will convert the quote to an order. Providers must then place an order for the power wheelchair with Quantum Rehab and request shipment to Active Controls. The turnaround, once there, is 48 hours.
Lawmakers: Medicare should cover infusion at home
WASHINGTON – Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, have introduced a bill that would allow patients fighting severe infections, cancer or chronic diseases to receive infusion treatments in their homes instead of in a site of care. The Medicare Home Infusion Site of Care Act, H.R. 5435, would pave the way for Medicare Part B to cover infusion-related care and services, including equipment and supplies, provided in a patient’s home. The lawmakers, citing research by Avalere, a non-partisan healthcare policy firm, say the move would save an estimated $80 million over a 10-year period.
AAH comments highlight NWPT code confusion
WASHINGTON – Commenting on code changes in CMS’s proposed CY 2015 Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System, AAHomecare says there is significant confusion among providers about the use of G0456 and G0457 with mechanical and electrical disposable NWPT devices. Confusion also surrounds the variance in components billed with distinct products, according to the association. Three manufacturers, through the Alliance of Wound Care Stakeholders, are working to provide CMS with detailed information on the costs of devices so the agency can establish non-facility practice expense relative value units for the new CPT codes for disposable NPWT, the association says. “AAHomecare recommended that CMS review those paid invoices and consider the costs of these devices when setting APC assignment of disposable NPWT and that any APC reassignment would be premature at this time and CMS should continue to place disposable NPWT APC 0016,” the association stated in a bulletin to members.
Disposable Medical Express adds auto ship
SPRING LAKE PARK, Minn. – Online retailer Disposable Medical Express, which specializes in incontinence products, now offers automatic shipment. Customers can sign up for the program during checkout. “This program will make it easier than ever for our customers to get the supplies they need to manage their incontinence,” the company stated in a release. “Now, instead of having to remember to place their order, we’ll do the work for them and their shipment will show up at the front door every month.” Customers receive a $2 discount on every case in their first order, and can alter or cancel at any time. Autoship is available for almost every product in the online store.
Shield HealthCare announces caregiver contest
VALENCIA, Calif. – Shield HealthCare has announced its 14th annual caregiver story contest. The contest recognizes the role of both family and professional caregivers, and the rewards and challenges they face, the company announced in a press release. The top three story winners and the five runners-up of the “What Makes Caregiving Rewarding?” story contest will each receive a monetary prize and a one-year subscription to Today’s Caregiver Magazine. All entries must be one page and submitted or postmarked by Nov. 30. Full contest details and official rules are available on Shield HealthCare's website at www.shieldhealthcare.com/caring.
Inogen cleared for reimbursement in France
GOLETA, Calif. – The Inogen One G3 portable oxygen concentrator has received coverage for reimbursement in France, the company announced Sept. 9. The Department of Social Affairs and Health has added the concentrator to its list of reimbursable oxygen therapy products and services as published in the Official Journal of the French Republic. The Inogen One G2 received similar coverage in 2013. France is estimated to be the third largest market in Europe, according to Global Industry Analysts.
Breathe device approved for European sales
IRVINE, Calif. – Breathe Technologies has received CE Certification for its Non-Invasive Open Ventilation System (NIOV), paving the way for the company to sell the device in the European Union. "We are now exploring potential commercialization partners for the EU and developing a European advisory board," said Larry Mastrovich, president and CEO, Breathe Technologies, in a press release. NIOV has also been recognized by the European Respiratory Society with a Product of Outstanding Interest (POINT) Award for 2014.
ResMed exec sells stock
SAN DIEGO – ResMed CFO Brett Sandercock on Sept. 3 sold 10,000 shares of stock at an average price of $53.23 for a total value of $532,3000. Sandercock now owns 70,913 shares valued at about $3.7 million. ResMed on July 31 reported revenues of $1.56 billion for fiscal year 2014, an increase of 3% over fiscal 2013.
Do-gooders: DeVilbiss, Med-Care, Ottobock, Convaid
Somerset, Pa.-based DeVilbiss Healthcare has announced a partnership with Team Fisher House, a program benefitting the Fisher House Foundation. The foundation is best known for its network of comfort homes where military and veteran families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receive medical treatment. As part of the partnership, DeVilbiss will champion the finish line tent for the Army Ten-Miler Oct. 12 in Washington, D.C…Boca Raton, Fla.-based Med-Care Diabetic & Medical Supplies has donated $100,000 to support Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for friendship, employment and leadership training for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Med-Care has also signed on to raise additional funds through vendors and partners, and to participate in the Best Buddies jobs program in Palm Beach...Ottobock Healthcare will provide technical service for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, it announced Sept. 8. The manufacturer has played this role for 13 games. As the Official Prosthetic, Orthotic and Wheelchair Technical Services Provider, Ottobock, which has offices in Brazil, will provide a team of prosthetists, orthotists, wheelchair technicians and welders from across the region and from its network worldwide…Torrance, Calif.-based Convaid recently donated a Cruiser wheelchair to Environmental Travelling Companions (ETC), a national pioneer in the field of accessible outdoor adventures for people with disabilities. The ETC will use the Cruiser at its camp location at the South Fork of the American River to assist people with disabilities to and from the river’s edge for an adaptive whitewater rafting program.
People in the news
Ottobock has hired Chris Wintenburg to fill the newly created position of director of e-commerce and inside sales for North America. Wintenburg will be responsible for managing the company’s e-business relationship; driving the overall success of North America online sales; increasing throughput and online sales for all business units and product categories; and managing inside sales efforts. He comes to Ottobock after a 13-year career at Dell.
WASHINGTON – Industry stakeholders say a large number of providers answered the call to submit comments by Sept. 2 on a proposed rule to, among other things, expand the competitive bidding program nationwide.
More than 4,000 comments were submitted on the overall rule, and stakeholders believe a good number of them pertained to the bid expansion and another HME provision to create bundled monthly payments.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from providers spoke to rural healthcare access,” said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group. “The comments were diverse—from the guy who can no longer go out to islands off of Cape Cod to the guy in Montana who covers a 400-mile radius and can no longer cover Indian reservations.”
CMS published the rule in the July 11 Federal Register.
Stakeholders planned to sift through the comments as a strategic exercise, looking to see where they agree and don’t agree with other commenters.
“We like to analyze comments, to see if there’s a theme and to maybe reach out to other associations whose comments didn’t align with ours to get feedback,” said Kim Brummett, senior director of government affairs for AAHomecare.
Of course, it’s one thing to comment en masse, it’s another thing for CMS to take notice. Brummett pointed to the *advance notice of proposed rule, published in February, as an example.
“Not one comment on that ANPR said that bundling enterals was a good idea and they listed the reasons why,” she said. “CMS went ahead and included it anyway.”
WASHINGTON – Could CMS’s offer to hospitals to resolve certain appeals in exchange for timely partial payment be something the agency also extends to HME providers?
Possibly, says Kim Brummett, senior director of regulatory affairs for AAHomecare, who has reached out to CMS to say, “Hey, what about us?”
“We asked if this is a sign that we could do a settlement on the DME side, and they said, ‘Absolutely,’” she said. “They need to see how this works. This is the easiest thing for them to settle right now. We’re going to watch what happens.”
CMS on Aug. 29 offered a settlement to acute care hospitals and critical access hospitals to resolve pending appeals of patient status denials in exchange for timely partial payment of 68% of the net payable amount.
Even if CMS were to extend a similar offer to HME providers, would they take it? Sylvia Toscano, president of Professional Medical Administrators, says many would, especially those with a significant amount of money tied up in appeals.
“I know providers who would welcome an offer like that,” she said. “It would relieve a lot of the administrative and financial burden of having to go through the appeals process. That’s something that’s not factored into that 68%.”
This is the second concession made to alleviate a massive backlog of appeals at the administrative law judge (ALJ) level. The first: A pilot project by the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) that brings together a provider and CMS with a facilitator to try and work out a settlement. But early reports from the project don’t sound too promising.
“I was just talking to a law firm that I work with that filed a settlement conference for a DME provider,” said Stephanie Greene, chief consulting officer at ACU-Serve. “They say CMS is not being responsive about moving through the process. There’s some frustration at OMHA.”
Regardless, CMS’s offer and the OMHA pilot are two clear signals that something has to give with the audit program, stakeholders say.
“I think CMS is starting to see the repercussions,” said Kelly Wolfe, CEO of Regency Billing and Consulting. “They need to do something.”
WASHINGTON – Stakeholders have sounded off on a CMS proposal that would prohibit certified orthotic fitters (COFs) from providing custom orthotics to Medicare beneficiaries.
The proposal states that custom-fitted, prefabricated orthotics may only be dispensed and billed by “individuals with specialized training”—orthotists, physical and occupational therapists, advanced-practice nurses and physicians.
“(COFs) will lose their livelihood and Medicare beneficiaries who receive their services will face serious challenges accessing care,” said Claudia Zacharias, president and CEO of the Board of Certification/Accreditation, International (BOC).
The proposal was included, along with proposals to expand competitive bidding nationwide and implement bundled payments, in a proposed rule published in the July 11 Federal Register. Comments on the rule were due Sept. 2.
COFs would still be allowed to provide off-the-shelf orthotics, which by design don’t require fitting. That makes no sense, say stakeholders.
“Welcome to your new career,” said Tom Fise, executive director of the American Orthotics and Prosthetics Association (AOPA).“CMS allows you to provide a service that is not needed.”
AOPA believes that COFs should be allowed to provide custom orthotics as long as they are under the supervision of a qualified individual, such as a licensed orthotist, says Fise.
“We like that only these persons with expertise can provide custom orthotics,” he said.
However, that’s not the norm in many cases, stakeholders say.
“I am sure that many retail places or DME providers don’t have skills to that level,” said Kim Brummett, senior director of regulatory affairs for AAHomecare. “When you start adding these types of requirements, people stop offering those types of services.”
WASHINGTON – A recent story in the Washington Post highlighting power wheelchair fraud is simply rehashing old news at the cost of highlighting current problems, industry stakeholders say.
“A Medicare Scam That Just Kept Rolling,” which appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of the newspaper, looks back five to 10 years, and focuses on people who started businesses with the sole purpose of defrauding the government, said Don Clayback, NCART executive director.
“You can tell these are not all legitimate medical supply companies,” he said. “It’s a few bad apples in the article versus thousands of dedicated companies.”
The Post story was part of a short series on problems with the Medicare program.
Stakeholders also point out that the fraud reported on in the story, like with other stories in the mainstream press about power wheelchair fraud, happened before CMS made certain policy changes in the mid-2000s to reduce fraud.
“The way Medicare had the program set up, they allowed a lot of this to happen,” said Dan Fedor, compliance director with The VGM Group’s U.S. Rehab. “They didn’t watch this closely enough and brush stroked everybody.”
The majority of providers are just trying to do the right thing, stakeholders say. By way of proof, they point out that current statistics show technical errors, not fraud, are responsible for many power wheelchair denials.
Instead of examining what happened 10 years ago, attention needs to be paid to current problems with the Medicare program, like decreased access to complex rehab, says Weesie Walker, NRRTS executive director.
“The consumers are frustrated but don't know what to do to bring about the awareness,” she said. “Wouldn't this be a great story for the Washington Post? Perhaps it is not as juicy as the scam story.”
WASHINGTON – CMS has instructed its contractors not to retrospectively audit providers for compliance with the face-to-face requirement. The news comes via an Aug. 20 letter sent by CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to Rep. David Roe, R-Tenn., who inquired about audit activities related to the requirement after meeting with members of ATHOMES. “The delay in enforcement on the face-to-face encounter requirements applies to reviews conducted by the DME MACs, Recovery Auditors, the Zone Integrity Contractors and Program Safeguard Contracts,” CMS states in the letter. “Once an enforcement date is announced for the delayed requirements, CMS and its contractors will begin enforcement after the announced date. When CMS begins enforcing the face-to-face encounter requirements, audits will be conducted prospectively.” CMS implemented the face-to-face requirement July 1, 2013, but it hasn’t begun enforcing the requirement. The delay does not apply, however, to reviews completed by the Comprehensive Error Rate Testing Program (CERT), CMS states in the letter. “CERT must review claims in accordance with all Medicare policies to product an unbiased improper payment rate,” it stated. Members of ATHOMES have made the face-to-face requirement a priority when meeting with their congressional members. They received support from not only Roe, but also Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black, John Duncan, Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais and Stephen Fincher.
ResMed, Apex Medical resolve patent disputes
SAN DIEGO and TAIPEI, Taiwan – ResMed and Apex Medical have agreed to a confidential settlement that resolves their outstanding patent disputes. Per the agreement, announced Sept. 5, Apex has the right to sell and import globally its Wizard masks, and its XT and iCH glow generators. In turn, it has agreed to dismiss all validity challenges to ResMed patents pending in the United States, Europe, Germany, Japan and China. ResMed has agreed to dismiss pending litigation against Apex’s products. The two companies didn’t provide any additional details. The settlement brings to a close a legal conflict that began in March 2013, when ResMed filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apex with the U.S. International Trade Commission and in federal court in Los Angeles.
Invacare sponsors summer sports clinic for vets
ELYRIA, Ohio – Invacare is sponsoring the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic Sept. 7-12 in San Diego. The clinic features adventure sports and recreation, including sailing, surfing, track and field, kayaking and cycling to recently-injured veterans. “The clinic helps participants to develop sports skills that improve their quality of life and to realize that a disability doesn’t meant they can’t live life to the fullest,” said Brian LaDuke, Invacare vice president, homecare and long-term care, in a press release. “This is something Invacare fully believes and it is crucial to the work we do every day.” The clinic aims to provide early intervention to veterans recovering from injuries to strengthen their bodies and improve their overall being and self-worth.
EZ-Access launches new website
ALGONA, Wash. – EZ-Access has unveiled a new website featuring four new tools: the ramp selector, the incline calculator, the dealer locator and the buy online tool. The tools were added to help customers select ramps and inclines, find nearby dealers and, if there’s no dealer in their area, buy online. The website also includes product information and large images, and a support section. The company plans further updates to the website.
Power Soccer association to play exhibition games at Medtrade
ATLANTA – The United States Power Soccer Association will play two exhibition games during Medtrade. The games will take place on the show floor on Oct. 22 at 11 a.m. and at 2 p.m., according to a press release. Two teams of four will play with a 13-inch soccer ball in games typically held on regulation basketball courts in gymnasiums. The 11 a.m. game will be followed by a press conference and Q&A session.
NSM makes buy in Oklahoma
OKLAHOMA CITY – National Seating & Mobility (NSM) has acquired Advantage Mobility & Medical Equipment, a provider doing business here since March 2005. Advantage Mobility’s eight staff members will continue to work for NSM and former owner Tom Hoover will remain onboard as NSM Oklahoma City branch manager. “As a team, we provide 45 years of experience in the complex rehab technology industry and we’re excited to add our passion to the NSM family,” said Hoover, who will serve as one of three ATPs and CRTSs at the location.
Hasco Medical’s Q2 revenues jump 28%
ADDISON, Texas – Hasco Medical’s net revenues for the second quarter of 2014 were $24 million, up 28% from the same quarter last year, the company has announced. Gross profit was $5.1 million vs. $4.3 million. Revenues in the first half of 2014 totaled $44.5 million, up 32% from the same period last year. Gross profit was $10.4 million vs. $7.8 million. The company credits increased private-pay business for accessible vans and contributions from Auto Mobility Sales, which it bought last September, for the gains.
Interactive Compliance acquires CMB Solutions
INDIANAPOLIS – Interactive Compliance has acquired a 95% interest in CMB Solutions, a provider of patient contact management and business solutions to the HME industry, and installed Asif Kidwai as CEO. “The acquisition allows for an optimized business plan of growth, as well as a broader scope of support for existing and new clients,” said Nyika Wright, now COO and executive director. Interactive Compliance is a provider of physician-backed patient management tools and home health alternatives to accountable care organizations, managed care organizations, major hospitals, medical research facilities, pharmacies, equipment providers and physicians, according to its LinkedIn page.
DMEevalumate offers new face-to-face tool
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – DMEevalumate.com has launched its General DME program, an online documentation tool to aid clinicians with face-to-face evaluations. The program offers standardized documentation for manual wheelchairs, canes, crutches, walkers, hospital beds, support surfaces, commodes, urological supplies and diabetic supplies. “Rather than guessing what is needed for each DME item, DMEevalumate.com ensures that all data points are addressed and answered,” stated Eric Gregory, director of operations, in a press release. DMEevalumate launched a PMD module in 2012 and a respiratory module in 2013.
NRRTS names board members
LUBBOCK, Texas – NRRTS has announced its 2014-205 board members. Mike Osborn is president, Mike Barner is president elect, Elaine Stewart is vice president, Leslie Rigg is secretary, Mike Nadeau is treasurer, Carey Britton is review chair DMAC A, Toby Bergantino is review chair DMAC B, Keith Jolicouer is review chair DMAC C and Katie Roberts is review chair DMAC D. At-large directors are Gerry Dickerson, Thana France, Jim Douglas, Andrea Madsen and Luke Moore.
More people in the news
Universal Software Solutions has hired Carmen Purcell-Vasquez as an account executive. Purcell-Vasquez has more than 20 years of experience in the HME industry, including seven years as a software trainer at Fastrack. She will be based in St. Louis…Ottobock has added two mobility sales representatives: Kelly Hasenei, a certified orthotic fitter with experience in medical sales, and Keith Friedman, owner/operator of a therapy clinic…Numotion has appointed Mark Vachon to its board of directors. Vachon spent 30 years with GE before retiring. He was most recently president and CEO of GE Healthcare Americas.
SAN DIEGO and TAIPEI, Taiwan – ResMed and Apex Medical have agreed to a confidential settlement that resolves their outstanding patent disputes.
Per the agreement, Apex has the right to sell and import globally its Wizard masks, and its XT and iCH glow generators. It has agreed to dismiss all validity challenges to ResMed patents pending in the United States, Europe, Germany, Japan and China.
ResMed has agreed to dismiss pending litigation against Apex’s products.
The two companies didn’t provide any additional details.
The settlement brings to a close a legal conflict that began in March 2013, when ResMed filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apex with the U.S. International Trade Commission and in federal court in Los Angeles.
WASHINGTON – CMS should scrap its plans to expand competitive bidding nationwide and to implement bundled payments, AAHomecare stated in comments submitted to the agency on Sept. 2.
CMS is proposing applying competitive bidding prices in non-bid areas by using regional prices limited by a national ceiling (110% of the average of regional prices) and a floor (90% of the average of regional prices).
“The top line recommendation to CMS reiterated AAHomecare’s position that single payment amounts (SPAs) are the product of a profoundly flawed competitive bidding program, do not reflect the true cost of doing business, and should not be used,” the association stated in a release. “AAHomecare strongly advises that CMS withdraw the proposed rule until it has balanced bidding data to implement payment adjustment in areas outside the CBAs.”
AAHomecare made the comments in response to a proposed rule that CMS published in the Federal Register on July 11. CMS is also proposing amending the competitive bidding regulations to allow it to conduct auctions using bundled payments.
In its comments, AAHomecare questioned whether CMS can legally replace payment categories under the fee schedules with bundled payments, and whether the agency can implement bundled payments without harming beneficiaries.
“This type of bundling would be so complex that it is unrealistic for CMS to expect it can implement this new methodology in the near future without placing the welfare of beneficiaries at risk,” the association stated in the release.
WASHINGTON – CMS has instructed its contractors not to retrospectively audit providers for compliance with the face-to-face requirement.
The news comes via an Aug. 20 letter sent by CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to Rep. David Roe, R-Tenn., who inquired about audit activities related to the requirement after meeting with members of ATHOMES.
“The delay in enforcement on the face-to-face encounter requirements applies to reviews conducted by the DME MACs, Recovery Auditors, the Zone Integrity Contractors and Program Safeguard Contracts,” CMS states in the letter. “Once an enforcement date is announced for the delayed requirements, CMS and its contractors will begin enforcement after the announced date. When CMS begins enforcing the face-to-face encounter requirements, audits will be conducted prospectively.”
CMS implemented the face-to-face requirement July 1, 2013, but it hasn’t begun enforcing the requirement.
The delay does not apply, however, to reviews completed by the Comprehensive Error Rate Testing Program (CERT), CMS states in the letter.
“CERT must review claims in accordance with all Medicare policies to product an unbiased improper payment rate,” it stated.
Members of ATHOMES have made the face-to-face requirement a priority when meeting with their congressional members. They received support from not only Roe, but also Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black, John Duncan, Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais and Stephen Fincher.
ELYRIA, Ohio – Invacare has made the next move in its turnaround plan.
The company announced Aug. 29 that it has sold Altimate Medical, maker of the EasyStand stationary standing assistive devices, to Rockwood Equity Partners, a private investment firm, for $23 million in cash.
“Altimate is a strong business, but it is outside Invacare’s core North America/Home Medical Equipment product portfolio,” stated Rob Gudbranson, interim president and CEO, in a release. “The net proceeds from this divestiture give us the opportunity to strengthen our balance sheet through the continued reduction of debt.”
Invacare estimates it will realize net proceeds of about $21.7 million from the sale of Altimate Medical, net of tax and expenses. It will use the proceeds to reduce debt outstanding under its revolving credit facility.
For the six months ended June 30, 2014, Altimate Medical’s net sales were about $8.9 million and earnings before tax before any pro forma adjustments were about $2.3 million, according to the release.
The Morton-Minn.-based Altimate Medical has 40 independent reps and 2,500 dealers across the United States and sells its products in more than 30 countries, according to an article in the St. Cloud Times.
New York City-based Rockwood Equity Partners focuses on investing in lower middle market companies with revenues typically between $10 million and $100 million. It teamed with St. Cloud, Minn.-based Granite Equity Partners to acquire Altimate Medical, according to the Times.
Earlier in August, Invacare announced that it would reduce its workforce by 190 employees, a move that it says will save up to $15 million annually on a pre-tax basis when fully instituted in 2015. At the time, Lara Mahoney, director of investor relations and corporate communications, called the reduction “one piece of our turnaround plan.”
The sale of Altimate Medical is subject to a $1 million escrow arrangement and further subject to certain post-closing adjustments.
YARMOUTH, Maine – M&A activity picked up a bit in the second quarter as the HME industry reshapes itself into a more and more segmented market, say analysts.
“The respiratory guys want respiratory, but they don’t want the low-end DME products,” said Don Davis, president of Duckridge Advisors. “They’ll take them, but they aren’t paying for them.”
The “hot” segments currently being targeted: oxygen and sleep therapy, and supplies, said Rick Glass, president of Steven Richards & Associates.
“There have always been people looking for pack-and-ship supply opportunities,” he said. “CPAP supplies and catheter supplies are hot.”
Among those looking to buy are the nationals, an encouraging sign, analysts say.
“I don’t know how much they are doing, but at least they are looking, which they hadn’t been doing before,” said Patrick Clifford, managing director at The Braff Group. “We are a year removed from Round 2 of competitive bidding going live and, (despite having contracts), they didn’t get the revenue pop they anticipated.”
Buyers also include private equity investors and other healthcare providers, including hospital systems, said Jonathan Sadock, president/CEO of Paragon Ventures.
“You have hospitals that have said, ‘We need to limit the readmission rate and providing good home care is one way to keep people coming back to the hospital,’” he said.
As is always the case with the HME industry, however, there are shadows on the horizon. CMS in July proposed expanding bid prices nationwide in 2016.
“There are still attractive acquisition candidates in rural markets at this point,” said Clifford. “But we don’t know the extent that there’s going to be a rural add-on or we don’t know if the rates will be as low as Rounds 1 and 2. When those rates are announced, all bets are off.”
CMS has also proposed implementing bundled monthly payments in certain areas for certain products.
“I think the bundling could cause some pause on the markets,” said Sadock. “It’s another data point to be evaluated, analyzed and decided upon. It’s not necessarily going to stop buyers doing acquisitions, but it could impact valuations and the types and sizes of companies.”
WASHINGTON – In the face of mounting pressure from industry stakeholders and advocacy groups, CMS has changed its tune about documentation requirements for wheelchair repairs.
In an Aug. 1 notice, the agency states that the initial purchase of equipment by Medicare is enough to establish medical necessity, so when reviewing claims for repairs, contractors only have to review for continued medical necessity of the item and necessity of the repair.
“It encouraged me that it’s the first thing I’ve seen in a long time that looked like they might be trying to apply logic here,” said Weesie Walker, executive director of NRRTS.
Stakeholders interpret the change to mean that providers will be able to repair wheelchairs without having to find the original documentation from the original provider, which is often, like in the case of The Scooter Store, no longer in business.
While stakeholders say the change is a “good first step” on paper, they’re anxious about how it will be implemented in practice.
“The only concern I have is when they make those changes, like not having to have the documentation for the original purchase of the chair, is it going to come back to haunt the provider during an audit?” Walker said. “I guess time will tell.”
By way of additional guidance, CSM states in the notice: “Even though a face-to-face encounter is required for the initial provision of certain wheelchairs, it is not needed for the repair of a wheelchair already covered and paid for by Medicare. However, documentation from the physician or treating practitioner that indicates the wheelchair being repaired continues to be medical necessary is required.”
“It’s an acknowledgement by CMS that there’s a more efficient way to do this and that they need to listen to the beneficiaries,” said Peter Rankin, government affairs manager at AAHomecare. “If you got the chair in the first place and it breaks, then you should probably get the chair fixed.”
Regardless of the change, until stakeholders receive additional clarification on the impact on audits and other issues, The VGM Group’s U.S. Rehab is advising its members to still obtain medical records when repairing items they didn’t initially provide, says Dan Fedor, compliance director.
“Proceed with caution is a good way to say it,” he said.
What the change doesn’t help with at all is reimbursement.
“Although this is a big step forward in terms of helping beneficiaries get service, the other half is the competitive bid single payment amount rates that providers have to accept for these repairs,” said Martin Szmal, founder of The Mobility Consultants. “It’s a home run; it’s not a grand slam."
LOS ANGELES – bflow solutions, a provider of cloud-based billing software to HME providers, now has 20 users and is amped up to add more.
“We’re actively promoting our application in the market,” said Ted Jones, CEO, previously of the IB Network, an accreditation consulting company.
The company has been working behind the scenes to fine tune its software since 2012 and plans to attend its first Medtrade in Las Vegas next year.
bflow believes its niche in the market is integrated software that not only provides billing but also compliance services, said Jones, who runs the company along with Eric Williams COO, who has a background in IT, and Mansfield Collins, chief legal officer.
“We have it all consolidated,” he said. “Other systems focus on just revenue and billing. That was fine before accreditation and (competitive bidding and audits) came into play. Now there are multiple organizations you’re accountable to.”
Whether a provider is looking for a cleaning log for an accreditation survey or specific documentation for an audit, it only has to look in one place, Jones said.
“It eliminates finger pointing in an organization—everyone does their work using the same system—and it drives productivity enhancements, resulting in additional revenues in their back pockets,” he said.
There’s still room for competition in the software market for HME, despite all the recent consolidation driven by Brightree and Mediware, Jones said.
“Providers are still looking for choice,” he said. “We’re giving them that choice.”
bflow charges providers a month-to-month fee based on their claims activity. It’s $199 per month for 50 claims and $.99 thereafter, or $399 per month for up to 2,500 claims with unlimited users, and up from there, Jones said.
“We’re happy with the progress we’re making and our customers are happy with the product and the price,” he said.