Spreading the News

Public awareness is a linchpin in the HME industry’s political battles.

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity, but given the past 12 months the HME industry has endured, I’m beginning to question that. The headlines of major national and metropolitan daily newspapers have been replete with sensational stories about HME providers allegedly defrauding Medicare.

All these stories ignore the inestimable value that the HME industry delivers to healthcare and the taxpayer. When healthcare in the home costs at least four times less than a hospital stay, and in many cases improved recovery and outcomes are also demonstrated, homecare makes a world of sense in today’s healthcare and financial environment.

But you’d never know that value from 2008’s high-profile fraud news. This situation vexes me to no end, because the readers of any of those stories could very likely walk away concluding HME is filled with nothing but crooks.

It’s enough to make you want to throw in the towel. We all know that the crooks are just that: crooks. They feel no allegiance with the homecare industry, and are simply using it to make a fast buck on the sly. Every industry has its bad actors, not just homecare, but the key for every industry is to distance itself from the villains.

Fighting Back

So how does the HME industry get out from under this cloud? Public awareness. The industry must stick up for itself and spread the good news about the incredible benefit it provides to its patients and the taxpayer.

And that’s not just to win a popularity contest. A positive view in the taxpayers’ minds about HME’s value to them will give the industry a solid foundation for its political battles. When politicians know that voters understand the necessity of homecare, we have the political clout we need to not only delay competitive bidding, but ultimately halt it.

Fortunately, the industry has been revving up its awareness efforts. A key example of that is AAHomecare’s Stand Up for Homecare campaign, which is gaining considerable support. The association says its fundraising reception at Medtrade Fall raised more than $70,000.

Stand Up for Homecare fights a number of public awareness fronts on the industry’s behalf, such as engaging in media relations to educate reporters about the HME industry, its value to the taxpayer, and why the fraud artists do not represent HME. It also supplies tools such as newspaper ads to providers to help them engage in grassroots public awareness efforts to educate their local markets about the critical role HME plays.

Provider participation in industry public awareness is crucial, because the industry needs your support. The associations can’t do it all. Ask yourself how you can help inform your marketplace about the value of your services. For instance, you could contact local reporters about your business, or better yet, work with your patients to tell their unique, compelling stories to the local press. Or, you could organize a local seminar on a healthcare issue relevant to your marketplace. You could engage various third-parties, such as therapists or physicians, to speak, and then advertise the event to relevant patient groups. Not only will this help raise the profile of your industry as a whole, but it will also help you market your business to potential patients and referral partners.

Undoubtedly, sharp PR on HME’s part will dull CMS’s funding axe, which has been getting lots of use lately. Mobility fund­ing is case in point. As this months’ cover story, “Unkind Cut” (page 16), points out, the 9.5 percent cut incurred by the industry to delay competitive bidding has forced mobility providers to develop strategies for surviving such a tough funding environment while they fight back to change that funding landscape for the better.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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