Medtrade Roundup: HME Industry Plans for 2009

Medtrade was back in Atlanta, but in other ways, the event's landscape was very different, indeed, when the HME industry's largest show arrived at the Georgia World Congress Center at the end of October.

Traffic was visibly lighter than in past years, not just in the exhibit hall, but also in downtown hotels and restaurants. Nielsen Business Media, owner of Medtrade, said in a mid-November news release that "nearly 10,500 industry professionals" attended the event.

"Consistent with industry and economic conditions, and general trends from all trade shows, attendance reflects a variance of less than 20 percent from last year," the news release said. The 10,500-attendee figure includes exhibitors, educational presenters and other participants who aren't considered
HME purchasers.

In 2006, the last time Medtrade was in Atlanta, show producers said approximately 15,000 industry professionals attended.

The Georgia World Congress Center was also lighter than usual in mobility and rehab exhibitors, with some of the industry's biggest names electing to stay home. But in the New Product Pavilion, two of three attendee-voted honors - the Merit Award (Star Cushion's Galaxy Contouring Air Cushion) and the Providers' Choice Award (Convaid's CuddleBug) - went to rehab manufacturers.

Rehab also was well represented in the educational portion of Medtrade, which included Cara Bachenheimer (senior VP of government relations, Invacare Corp.), Georgie Blackburn (VP of government relations & legislative affairs, Blackburn's Physicians Pharmacy) and Scott Meuser (chairman/CEO, Pride Mobility Products/Quantum Rehab) among the panelists at the event's keynote session.

The panelists talked to the packed auditorium about industry lessons learned in  2008, while also discussing what needs to be done in 2009 and beyond to ensure the survival and success of the HME provider.

Regarding the July halting of Medicare's competitive bidding program, for instance, Blackburn said, "Look what we did this year: We were able to move mountains.... When we speak together, we resonate."

Bachenheimer agreed: "That's a good example of what we have to do in a bigger way." Thanks to the HME industry's unified effort to educate legislators on the pitfalls of the program, Bachenheimer added, "There's not a lot of people in Washington that think competitive bidding is a good idea." But she warned that there is still a perception that the industry is being overpaid for equipment and services, and noted that unless that the industry is more accurately understood, it risks being "downtrodden."

Meuser, while acknowledging "Our industry has needs across the board," said one of the answers was to change the image of HME. "We've got to do a better job of marketing our industry," he said. He added that there's been "a long era of mistrust" between the industry and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). "How do we end the war?" Meuser said. "We just can't continue to dodge bullets."

Medtrade also hosted its first-ever rehab keynote session, moderated by Dr. Mark Schmeler, director of the continuing education program in the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology at the University of Pittsburgh. Panelists included Tim Pederson (CEO, WestMed Rehab); Cody Verrett (national sales director, Quantum Rehab); Jerry Keiderling (president, U.S. Rehab); Marty Ball (VP of sales, TiLite); Kendra Betz (MSPT, ATP, Prosthetics Clinical Coordinator, Veterans Health Administration); and Hymie Pogir (VP of product planning, National Seating & Mobility).

Asked by Schmeler to describe rehab's challenges, the panelists gave a variety of answers, including the lack of a "clear distinction between DME and complex rehab" (Pederson) to "fewer young people getting into the industry" (Ball) to a fear that "we have buckled under the pressure of reimbursement" for certain types of technology, such as seat elevators, which are now often included at no charge and therefore will be difficult to win funding for in the future (Betz).

Among rehab's positive traits: "Our caring attitude as a provider.... We're always there in a storm" (Keiderling); "incredible evolutions in technology" (Verrett); and "our expertise in equipment and ability to match technology with consumers and the wonderful outcomes we get" (Pogir).

Those sorts of educational experiences were among the reasons that show director Kevin Gaffney said, in a press release, "Overall show attendance and participation exceeded our expectations. In light of the legislative and regulatory issues facing the industry in combination with the current economic situation in the United States, there was uncertainty in regards to how the industry would react. Fortunately, our aggressive and targeted marketing campaign influenced providers to realize the importance of education and interaction with the exhibitors and their peers. Attendees came to Medtrade for solutions, and they found them."

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