Industry groups plan to meet this week but agenda is unclear

By MATTHEW HAY
HHBR Washington Correspondent

LAS VEGAS – Incoming Chairman of the National Association for Medical Equipment Services’ (NAMES; Alexandria, VA) Board of Directors Mario Lacute announced last week that NAMES will meet this week with representatives from as many as nine other home care groups to discuss "joining forces" in some organized fashion. But members of several of those groups cite a somewhat different agenda – namely to squash NAMES President William Coughlan’s efforts to develop another home care coalition.

Earlier this year, Coughlan announced the development of a home care coalition called Coalition for Health at Home. But several of the other groups said the membership of that coalition would simply duplicate the membership of the Home Care Coalition, which has been in existence for many years.

Speaking at NAMES’ FutureShow in Las Vegas, Lacute said the home care industry does have "a common message," but pointed to "a perception that we are speaking from different points of view." He added that one of the directives of the NAMES board is to "move forward to consolidate this industry and bring it under one association, and we are going to do that."

Lacute said outgoing NAMES Chairman David Wine has made numerous contacts with the elected leadership of other home care organizations to discuss the upcoming meeting and the issues that surround it.

In addition to the five national home health associations, the Home Care Coalition includes the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA; Alexandria, VA), the National Home Infusion Association (NHIA; Alexandria, VA), and the National Association for Infusion Therapy (NAIT; Washington). The coalition also enjoys the active support of several major manufacturing companies, such as Invacare (Elyria, OH) and Sunrise Medical (Carlsbad, CA).

"What is the point of another coalition?" asked one industry executive. That executive then speculated that NAMES’ efforts might derive in part from the fact that the Home Care Coalition has been administrated by HIDA, which is sometimes viewed as NAMES’ rival, even though HIDA has expressed a willingness to rotate that responsibility with other groups.

NAMES has been struggling financially in recent years, but that picture has worsened as of late. Two years ago, the association attempted to boost its revenue by increasing its dues a stiff 40%. It promoted that increase with the slogan, "forty percent or forty percent," on the basis that the industry was facing a 40% cut in oxygen reimbursement. Unfortunately, the industry was hit with a 35% cut in oxygen reimbursement under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, along with the increase in dues.

In fairness to NAMES, industry experts point out that Congress had been targeting oxygen reimbursement for several years and timed the cut in oxygen reimbursement with similar cuts in home health and home infusion.

"There was probably no way to stop that train," remarked one NAMES member executive. "But it was still a gamble to tie those two things together."