WASHINGTON – The Senate Finance Committee has approved the nomination of Alex Azar as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services by a 15-12 margin. The vote was split along party lines, with Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., joining Republicans. At his Jan. 9 confirmation hearing, Azar told Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., he would work with congressional leaders to address issues negatively impacting the HME industry, including working with the Office of Management and Budget to approve an interim final rule that would provide relief from Medicare’s competitive bidding program in non-bid areas. The nomination now goes to the full Senate for final confirmation.
AASM recruits providers, patients
DARIEN, Ill. – The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has formed a new patient-focused membership organization, the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep, to improve the lives of sleep apnea sufferers through advocacy, education and support. AASM seeks healthcare providers and patients to become members of the new organization. “The American Academy of Sleep Medicine established the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep to bring health care providers and patients with sleep disorders together to promote healthy sleep for all,” said AASM President Dr. Ilene M. Rosen. The AAHS is a 501(c)(4) membership association that is led by a board of directors comprising both providers and patients. Its three-part mission is to: engage policymakers and the public to enhance understanding of and care for all sleep disorders; provide support services for patients with sleep disorders; and promote healthy sleep in all populations. Member dues are $25 for two years.
CPAP Store eyes 50 retail stores by 2020
LAS VEGAS – CPAP Store USA has opened its fifth retail store in Agoura Hills, Calif. It has also announced ambitious plans to open 45 more retail stores across the country by the end of 2020. "The growing CPAP-user community is expanding and becoming a great niche for those interested in franchising, helping us to expand our reach and help those in need,” said Marina BerBeryan, spokeswoman and ambassador of CPAP Store USA. “Sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, have become a significant health issue in the United States. It is estimated that 29.4 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea with 80% of the cases undiagnosed.” CPAP Store USA already has retail stores in Las Vegas (2), Los Angeles and Dallas-Forth Worth.
Permobil helps babies go
LEBANON, Tenn. – Permobil and the Permobil Foundation on Jan. 18 hosted and sponsored physical therapy and engineering students and researchers from Vanderbilt University, Belmont University and Power of Play to train children and families to use custom-fit toy cars. Permobil employees, students and engineers modified battery-powered ride-on cars to be custom fits for the children based on clinical assessments for their needs. The event was part of the Go Baby Go program to improve the day-to-day lifestyle of children with mobility impairments. Dr. Amanda Lowery, researcher and engineer at Vanderbilt and director of Go Baby Go Music City, along with Dr. Teresa Plummer, researcher and physical therapist from Belmont University, and Pete Capell, president of Power of Play, assisted throughout the event.
Precision Pulmonary Diagnostics rebrands
HOUSTON – Precision Pulmonary Diagnostics, a provider of sleep management services based here, has changed its name to Precision Sleep Solutions as part of a rebranding initiative. The company also plans to introduce a new corporate logo, color scheme and tagline, as well as launch a refreshed website. Company officials say the new name more accurately describes the core competence and value proposition of the company. “Our new name reflects how businesses addressing sleep apnea and fatigue in the workplace enjoy hard-dollar savings in employee health and safety expenditures,” said Dr. Mark Berger, president and CEO. Established in 2006, Precision Sleep Solutions provides comprehensive, cost-effective sleep apnea disease management solutions for the transportation Industry. Its patented process of sleep apnea testing and treatment delivery developed within a trucking company for the trucking industry has been recognized by organizations like the National Sleep Foundation and the American Sleep Apnea Association.
Comfort Mobility Medical broadens product portfolio
BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – Comfort Mobility Medical has increased the number of lift chairs in its showroom to 24-30, all manufactured by Golden Technologies, the company has announced. Founder Patrick “Randall” Flack says he prides himself on knowing which lift chair is the best for each customer. “I personally test everything to understand how it works and who it will benefit the most, in terms of quality of life,” he said. Comfort Mobility Medical also carries other products, including Inogen One’s G3 portable oxygen concentrator. In 2018, the company has added a number of new products to its portfolio, including the Kalmia Therapeutic Sleep System by Parks Health Products.
Medtrade Spring heats up, Medtrade planning in progress
LAS VEGAS ¬– Early registration rates for Medtrade Spring end Jan. 31, show organizers have reminded providers. Early registration rates are $50 for the Expo pass and $199 for the conference pass. Those rates increase to $100 and $249, respectively, after Jan. 31. “Don’t let this value pass you by,” says Sarah Varner, marketing director for Medtrade. The Spring event is scheduled for March 27-29 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas…Show organizers have put out a call for presentations for Medtrade, Oct. 15-17 at the Georgia World Congress Center. They plan to emphasize panels again this year, but they will also select individual and co-presented sessions. Topics of interest include audits and compliance, competitive bidding, legal, retail/caretail, sales and marketing, strategic planning, business operations, executive leadership and Medicare updates.
Breast care event seeks speakers, exhibitors
NEW ORLEANS – The Global Breast Care Summit & Expo, hosted by the American Association of Breast Care Professionals, is calling for speakers and exhibitors. The event, scheduled for July 10-12 at Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans, provides individual attendees with the opportunity to network with mastectomy stakeholders, explore new products, and develop a professional edge through a broad range of educational opportunities and product demonstrations. Who should attend? Certified mastectomy fitters, healthcare providers, nurses, prosthetists and orthotists, wig/head wear fitters, and others.
Cure Medical sponsors Rollettes
LOS ANGELES – Cure Medical is now a sponsor of the Rollettes, a wheelchair dance team that seeks to empower women with disabilities through dance. "The Rollettes consistently embody our shared values of support, strength and grace within the community we serve,” said Lisa Wells, Cure Medical vice president of marketing. “Cure Medical is honored to financially support their educational and outreach programs that connect women in creative, collaborative and empowering ways.” Cure’s financial commitment includes sponsoring the Rollettes Experience National Camp in August.
Short takes: Brightree, Paragon Ventures
Brightree has extended its membership agreement with VGM & Associates through 2020. The agreement ensures VGM members will continue to save money through discounted access to Brightree’s core software solutions. Brightree and VGM have partnered since 2008…M&A advisory firm Paragon Ventures has a new managing director: Tony Marsallo. Marsallo, who co-founded Sleep Services of America, will focus on various healthcare businesses, including sleep medicine, home health, medical device and urgent care sectors…Netherlands-based NightBalance has received a “positive recommendation” from the Dutch National Health Care Institute to reimburse its Sleep Position Trainer for obstructive sleep apnea. The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport will formally approve the device for reimbursement following this recommendation. NightBalance says the approval is based on the company’s “strong data, demonstrating clinical efficacy,” including a clinical data set of more than 80,000 nights in peer-reviewed published research. Back in 2016, NightBalance said it would use a round of financing to bankrolla U.S. launch…Brookfield, Wis.-based OnCourse Learning has acquired Wound Care Education Institute, an internationally recognized wound care education provider for healthcare professionals. WCEI, founded by two nurses, conducts on-site and online courses, along with live and on-demand webinars. Its annual Wild On Wounds conference draws wound care clinicians from around the country. OnCourse Learning delivers licensure, regulatory and compliance education solutions throughout a number of industries, including health care, financial services and real estate…bflowhas been named as one of the top three tech startups in Fresno by The Tech Tribune. To qualify, a company must be privately owned, less than 10 years old and a recipient of venture capital funding, according to a press release. bflow was recognized based on revenue potential, leadership, brand/product traction and its competitive landscape.
People news: Debra Bullock, Lou Silverman
Houston-based IMCO Home Care has named Debra Bullockas its full-time president. Bullock has serviced the medical device community for more than 40 years in sales, operations, management and member service development. For the last 21 years, IMCO, a separate company, has employed Bullock in various positions, most recently executive vice president of Long Term Care and Homecare. “I am thrilled about Deb coming on board full time at IHC,” said Pam Weadow, IMCO Home Care’s vice president and general manager. “Deb is an icon in our industry and has a great passion for helping people age in place. Both her knowledge and connections will help us take IMCO Home Care to the next level.” Established in 2012, IMCO Home Care, a group-purchasing organization, offers contracting solutions and resources that allow homecare providers to save time and money, and improve care…Durham, N.C.-based PatientPay, an end-to-end patient payment solution focused on specialty health care, has appointed Lou Silverman to its board of directors. Silverman is currently the CEO of Advanced ICU Care, where he has driven growth of the company for the past four years.
STEVENS POINT, Wis. – In less than a year, Ki Mobility has gone from no direct presence in the seating market, to covering two of three product categories.
Ki Mobility announced last week that it has acquired the custom seating business of Burnet, Texas-based Stealth Products and is transitioning the business to its headquarters, here, to streamline ordering and improve delivery time.
“More and more customers are looking to get their seating and wheelchair from the same supplier,” said Tom Whelan, vice president of product development for Ki Mobility, primarily a manufacturer of complex manual wheelchairs in the folding, rigid and tilt product categories.
Previously, Ki Mobility launched its first offering in the seating market, the Axiom cushion line, in the summer of 2017. Now it has offerings in the configured (Stealth) and packaged (Axiom) product categories.
With Stealth’s seating business, Ki Mobility gets a mature product line with a loyal customer base. A big reason Ki Mobility decided to buy Stealth’s seating business was the outcry from its customers when the company announced late last year that it would be exiting the market.
“Rather than kill the product line, we decided to move it from them to us,” Whelan said. “Had this opportunity not come up, we may have not entered the market at this time, though we possibly would have in the future. But we have a good working relationship with Stealth.”
Stealth decided to sell the custom seating business due to reductions in reimbursement and increases in production costs, but it’s still committed to the complex rehab market, as a whole, with a wide range of positioning products for the whole body, alternative controls and a new cushion line set to launch in February.
“The plan is to refocus on developing innovative solutions for positioning issues,” said Lorenzo Romero, president. “That’s what we have built our reputation on, so that’s what we’re focusing on. There are many, many things we’re still offering as a company, minus this one particular line.”
As to whether or not Ki Mobility will now seek opportunities in the third product category in the seating market, custom-molded, Whelan would only say, “Our strategic plan is to go down the path of diversifying our product line, while staying in the complex rehab market.”
Ki Mobility’s acquisition of Stealth’s seating business follows a number of deals in the market in recent months. In November, Ki Mobility announced it would be the exclusive distributor of U.K.-based Leckey pediatric seating products in North America; and earlier this month, Permobil announced it would acquire the custom seating businesses of Ottobock.
“I think what we’re seeing is normal maturation,” Whelan said. “It used to be when you bought a car you had to go to the tire store for mag wheels and the audio shop for a high-end stereo. Now cars are manufactured with those options. These are cottage industries that have grown up.”
WASHINGTON – This year’s National CRT Leadership & Advocacy Conference, hosted by NCART and NRRTS, will put consumers front and center like never before.
The educational program for the event, April 25-26 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., will include a new panel session with consumers.
“It will be part their personal stories, part their experiences doing advocacy work and part their take on what manufacturers and providers can do to better engage them,” said Don Clayback, executive director of NCART.
The panel of consumers will kick things off on the morning of April 25, followed by a panel of policymakers and lobbyists on the temperature in Congress; a panel of stakeholders on industry related updates; and an orientation for the next day’s visits to Capitol Hill.
Per tradition, about two-dozen consumers will participate in those visits to the Hill.
“That’s one of the best things this event does,” said Weesie Walker, executive director of NRRTS. “Having a consumer there just brings more awareness to our issues, not only for the legislators and their staff, but also for the consumers themselves. One year, I went on visits with a mom and her little girl, and after two visits, she told me, ‘I had no idea the process it takes to get my daughter’s equipment.’ I wanted to cry.”
While the conference has always drawn a core group of consumers, organizers are also trying to recruit new consumers, especially from states like Indiana, where legislators haven’t signed on yet to support efforts like stopping competitive bidding-related cuts for accessories for complex manual wheelchairs and creating a separate benefit for complex rehab.
“There are also states where the consumer has done a really good job educating legislators about our issues and getting their support, and we want to maintain that level of support,” Walker said.
YARMOUTH, Maine – Expect to see large regional HME players get bigger in the year ahead as they look to increase their market share, say M&A analysts.
“These regionals are really looking to grow their territory,” said Brad Smith, managing director/partner at Vertess. “I think 2018 is going to be a huge year.”
And that’s building on a strong 2017. In the third quarter of last year, 18 transactions were completed in the HME sector, the highest since 2014, according to The Braff Group.
“I think both buyers and sellers are getting comfortable with where true valuations are,” said Patrick Clifford, a managing director at The Braff Group. “Valuations aren’t overly terrific, but they aren’t bottom fishers, either.”
They are being strategic, however, say analysts.
“You’ve got buyers like (AeroCare CEO) Steve Griggs that are out there looking for special situations,” said Rick Glass, president of Steven Richards & Associates. “I don’t see demand for broad-based companies coming back until we see some picking back up on the reimbursement front.”
That may not be all that far off, says Smith, who said many of the buyers he talks to feel reimbursement may have finally bottomed out.
“Right now, they can still buy on the cheap and gain tremendous market share,” he said. “In three years or five years—whenever it starts going up and DME becomes more desirable again—those guys will sell.”
Also showing signs of life are the four nationals, say analysts.
“Lincare has actually been making moves and I’ve even heard from Apria,” said Smith. “The big four nationals have been really active again and I think that’s going to translate into them becoming more active and more aggressive this year.”
WASHINGTON – Industry stakeholders are casting a wider net for providers to build more support for a bill that would provide relief from Medicare’s competitive bidding program.
As of Friday, providers had helped to push the number of co-sponsors for H.R. 4229 to 110.
“We’ve got a core group of providers that have advocated all along and that’s terrific,” said Tom Ryan, president and CEO of AAHomecare. “But we’ve also got sideliners who have let others do it and we’ve got to get them engaged. It’s a call to arms.”
AAHomecare recently launched a Congressional Accountability Project to assign providers to serve as contacts for legislators in their states. These contacts are responsible for asking for support for legislation like H.R. 4229, educating lawmakers about industry issues and, basically, stepping up when there’s a call to action.
While providers in some states are actively engaged with lawmakers, that’s not the case in others, like Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and the District of Columbia.
“I am reaching out to people I know in other states to say, ‘Hey, we need you or somebody you know to get assigned to these legislators,’” said Doug Coleman, chairman of the AAHomecare State Leaders Council and president of the Colorado Association for Medical Equipment Services. “This way we know that the vast majority of lawmakers are hearing the stories and the messaging so there’s a better chance (of getting H.R. 4229 passed).”
One obstacle to greater provider participation in lobbying efforts may be fear it will take too much time or they won’t know what to say, Coleman says.
“It doesn’t have to take much time and it’s not hard to tell a story and build a relationship,” he said. “We are going to try and come up with a webinar to do a little training.”
Even with Congress focused on a potential government shutdown last week, stakeholders continued their efforts to add more cosponsors to H.R. 4229 and get a bid-related interim final rule cleared by the Office of Management and Budget.
“The more support we get, that puts pressure on the Office of Management and Budget and CMS that we’ve got to fix this,” said Ryan.