NRRTS, NAIMES "Applaud" Invacare Decision to Stop Selling to The Scooter Store

The list of organizations opposed to The Scooter Store's national competitive bidding stance continued to grow today, with the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES) expressing support of Invacare Corp.'s decision not to sell new products to nationwide mobility dealer.

Invacare Corp. and its divisions have stopped selling new power mobility vehicles to The Scooter Store and will not sell complex rehab equipment to the national mobility dealer's new rehab division, said Lou Slangen, Invacare's senior VP of global sales and marketing.

In a letter sent out Jan. 23, NAIMES said it “strongly opposes competitive bidding in any form and in lieu of total repeal, the association supports H.R. 1845 as an alternative. NAIMES also strongly supports the carve-out of complex rehab as proposed in H.R. 2231... NAIMES applauds the stand that the Invacare Corporation has taken in unity with independent equipment suppliers by announcing their decision to cease doing business with The Scooter Store. In view of the current economic picture, it was no doubt a hard financial choice to make.”

The day before, the National Registry of Rehab Technology Suppliers (NRRTS) said in a letter to members and friends of the organization that it supported Invacare’s decision. NRRTS also distributed a fax supporting a rehab carveout from competitive bidding, along with letters to Congress from comedian Jerry Lewis, a long-time supporter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and other consumer advocacy groups who urged Congress to guarantee consumer access to complex rehab equipment. NRRTS Executive Director Simon Margolis referred to "a large, national power wheelchair supplier" and said that company's "rogue opinion is not shared by the organizations and associations that represent complex rehab suppliers and manufacturers."

In a Jan. 22 interview with Mobility Management, Slangen said Invacare had already stopped selling new vehicles and that references to The Scooter Store as an Invacare dealer would be removed from the manufacturer's Web site "by the end of the day." Invacare will continue to supply replacement parts to The Scooter Store to support vehicles sold in the past.

But as for new consumer power and rehab power chairs, Slangen says the relationship is over. Invacare's multiple rehab divisions, including Adaptive Switch Labs, Freedom Designs and Motion Concepts, will also decline to sell to The Scooter Store.

Slangen estimated that Invacare stands to lose an estimated $20 million this year because of this move, but said the decision to no longer sell new vehicles to The Scooter Store was necessary because of The Scooter Store's competitive bidding beliefs and actions. Slangen cited a letter he said was sent last month by The Scooter Store's Mark Leita, director of public affairs, "to various Congressional offices... That letter articulates that The Scooter Store says that they do not want to have a (competitive bidding) carve-out for complex rehab, and they are also for competitive bidding."

As a result, Slangen said, "Based on Scooter Store's stance in the industry, we have taken the action to part ways. We are no longer supplying product to Scooter Store. We will furnish them parts, in order to make sure that consumers who have bought our products can be serviced. We are not selling (The Scooter Store) any power wheelchairs, any finished products.

"We feel that what Scooter Store's position is is against everything the rehab industry stands for and that the consumer is better serviced by the setup that we have today with the independent providers, with the services they provide. We feel that fighting for the carveout for complex rehab is better for the consumers, is better for the providers, and is better for Invacare and the total industry. That's the stand we have taken."

Slangen takes exception to quotes that have appeared on industry Web sites and have been attributed to The Scooter Store. Slangen says those quotes indicate the Texas-based dealer favors excluding not just high-end assistive technology from competitive bidding programs, but all power chairs -- a strategy Slangen said that will "make the legislation carveout D.O.A. -- dead on arrival."

Leita, also speaking to Mobility Management on Jan. 22, said, "There are people out there who have grossly misinterpreted our position on competitive bidding... Our position all along has been consistent with the industry's message. We've been very optimistic that people will understand where we're coming from once they understand what the e-mail really meant. We've always supported the Tanner-Hobson bill and the Conrad-Hatch bill -- that's first and foremost."

The Tanner-Hobson and Conrad-Hatch bills have sought to reform competitive bidding via the House and the Senate, respectively.



The Potential Fallout

Slangen says Invacare anticipates losing $10 million this year in consumer power sales, "plus of course we are giving up any potential sales on complex rehab. We are probably giving up a total of about $20 million worth of business by parting ways with The Scooter Store. We feel it's not right for the consumer, it's not right for the providers (to say), 'We should have a carveout for all power wheelchairs,' which is not going to happen."

The Scooter Store has branch offices nationwide that sell consumer power chairs and scooters. Two weeks ago, the company announced it was expanding into the rehab market via a division called Alliance Seating & Mobility. Scott Higley, former VP of sales for Quantum Rehab, is among the corporate leaders of that division.

"What we are doing right now are two things," Slangen said. "We are betting that all other providers will support Invacare, and the reaction we're getting so far is very strong on this subject. And we are banking, obviously by walking away from up to $20 million worth of business with The Scooter Store, that those other providers are going to turn business over from companies that are supplying The Scooter Store."

After two full days of mobilitymgmt.com’s Web site survey asking suppliers if they would be more likely to buy product from a mobility or rehab manufacturer who refused to sell to The Scooter Store, 44 percent of survey participants said their willingness to buy from that manufactuer would not change as of noon on Jan. 24. (Click HERE to vote.)

In the initial days after the announcement, Slangen said, "We are out there, talking to providers. We are getting tremendously supportive comments.

"I would say in the rehab industry, this is the most defining moment in my 20 years that I've been in it," Slangen said. "How are we going to go forward in our industry? Are we going to drive complex rehab to the lowest common denominator, or are we going to service the patients, the consumers, in the proper way with the right product and give people the opportunity to (receive) the reimbursement whereby they can service those beneficiaries, those consumers in the proper way? That's what's on the table right now."

Slangen said Invacare believes that excluding rehab from competitive bidding is absolutely necessary. to preserve proper patient access and service.

"The products that consumers require, from the power chair itself to the seating system to all the other parts that go with that fitting, such as a sip-and-puff, the electronics, all of these things will obviously come under tremendous pricing pressure," he said. "The consumer will not have access to the product that gives them the best quality of life. Secondly is the service component. The provider doesn't have the room anymore to do the proper assessments, to do all of the things that are required. That's the reality as prices go down through competitive bidding on complex rehab.

"Invacare has chosen the route of betting on the providers that we have, and pushing the carveout of complex rehab. That ends up being the best for the consumer, the best for the provider and the best for Invacare."

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