Editor's Note

The Big Sell

Providers need to reach out to partners, patients — now.

They say that everything comes down to sales. Typically I try to ignore axioms like that, but these days, I have to admit I find it sage advice. The reason I say this is that the implementation of Round One has caused nothing but confusion among patients and referral partners. If they want to survive, providers need to go into a marketing full-court press where education is concerned.

As we have interviewed providers in Round One competitive bidding areas, we’ve heard the same thing over and over again: patients aren’t sure which providers they should use and neither are referral partners. While CMS said that it would engage in adequate education of these groups well in advance of and during the implementatio of Round One, nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, Round One providers are being told by once long-standing referral sources that those sources can’t work with them any longer because they are not a bid winner — even though the DME concerned was not a Round One category. In other words, there are referral partners in Round One CBAs that either through confusion, or to make things easier for themselves, are only dealing with contract holders for any and all DME/HME services. That’s scary, as it clearly demonstrates the culling effect that industry was certain was behind the competitive bidding program in the first place.

Similarly, patients aren’t sure which providers they can use, and are sometimes being misdirected by equally confused referral sources and other healthcare professionals. This mess that has been demonstrated by the complaints that keep rolling into the industry’s www.biddingfeedback.com website and (888) 990-0499 hotline.

Which is why you need to constantly be marketing your business. In this state of confusion, the onus is on providers to regularly reach out to both their patients and partners to ensure that they are aware of the services the provider offers, and can offer under competitive bidding. And this doesn’t just mean Round One providers. Providers covered by Round Two should look at the disarray CMS let unfold in Round One and start working to educate their local healthcare continuum about the program; why it is bad; and how it could impact access to care.

Besides educating your patients and partners, these marketing efforts will also have another key benefit. They will ensure that your brand is constantly out there and advertised, which is critical in this funding environment. The more exposure you have the more you will help drive new revenue. To trot out another sales saw: It pays to advertise.

To help you develop your marketing strategies, we're offering a webinar with Ty Bello, the president Team@Work Coaching, which consults HMEs on how to better sell and market their businesses. Ty is going present multiple ways in which providers can develop consistent communications and marketing strategies, and how they can leverage those strategies to create product- and service-specific marketing messages and drive more referrals. If you haven't overhauled your marketing programs in the wake of Round One, Ty's webinar is a must-attend event. You can learn more here.

But your marketing efforts shouldn’t stop there. Now is the time for providers to hit Congress and keep hitting it. The industry now has a bill in-hand, H.R. 1041, which calls for the repeal of competitive bidding, and needs to support it. As you might recall, the last bill that proposed to end competitive bidding, H.R. 3790, garnered a tremendous amount of bi-partisan support in the House before it’s pay-for was thrown off by the Round One bids.

We can’t let that happen again. The clock is ticking, and we have the tool. Providers need to sell their story to their Representatives and keep selling it until those lawmakers co-sponsor H.R. 1041. The sooner HMEs can demonstrate clear, bi-partisan support of the repeal bill, the sooner they will have the leverage necessary to get a companion bill in the Senate and start pushing for votes.

But that’s still only part of this “big sell.” Providers need to enlist their patients in this lobbying lightning strike. While a provider’s story is compelling — shuttered businesses, lost jobs, removal of patient access — no group can better tell the story of the havoc competitive bidding will wreak better than a patient. Work with your patients and show them how to sell their stories to your lawmakers, who will find them very compelling. Patients’ quality of life, and often their lives, are on the line. That’s a pitch that’s hard to ignore.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 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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