CRT Executives Discuss State of the Industry at RESNA/NCART Conference

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Executives gathered for last week’s combined RESNA/NCART event in Arlington, Va., discussed topics ranging from complex rehab technology (CRT) innovation to Medicare funding for wheelchair accessories to the need to better educate end users regarding the challenges that challenge the industry.

At the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, NCART Executive Director Don Clayback moderated the panel discussion of six CRT industry’s leaders.

The panelists were Dean Childers, senior VP/GM of Invacare Corp.; Pete Coburn, president of commercial operations in the United States for Sunrise Medical; Scott Meuser, chairman/CEO of Pride Mobility Products and Quantum Rehab; Bill Mixon, CEO/president of National Seating & Mobility; Mike Swinford, CEO of Numotion; and Doug Westerdahl, CEO/president of Monroe Wheelchair.

The three manufacturer representatives – Childers, Coburn and Meuser – all emphasized the importance of continuing to create technology that will support ever greater independence for end users, with Meuser praising better power wheelchairs that provide both increased function and greater customer satisfaction. Coburn said, “We pass a lot of e-mails around our [office] talking about the voice of the customer,” and said Sunrise Medical would continue to develop and launch products that are HCPCS coded as well as products outside the coding system. Childers noted the “tremendous opportunity we see at Invacare to improve quality of life not only for users, but also for caregivers.”

But panelists also acknowledged multiple factors that are challenging the industry. Mixon expressed concern for “the concept of access” to technology, and noted that some independent CRT providers are still not fully aware of funding cuts and other threats. Westerdahl said many independent CRT providers “still provide standard DME as a professional courtesy to referral sources,” but questioned whether that could continue to happen as profit margins shrink.

Swinford spoke of the continuing fight to stop a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services plan to derive CRT wheelchair accessory reimbursement from Medicare competitive bidding pricing. Noting that the CRT industry’s work “is not easy to articulate,” Swinford praised the industry’s ability late last year to relay a singular message about CRT wheelchair accessories – a message that led to a late-year delay to funding policy changes for wheelchair accessories on the power chair side.

“I’m encouraged and excited about the progress we’ve made,” he said.

Mixon pointed out that a recent Government Accountability Office study supported the industry’s belief that CRT is very different from durable medical equipment, but added that there’s still a “lack of transparency in the transaction process” when it comes to how end users receive CRT. Mixon also said he believes there will continue to be consolidation among CRT providers.

Westerdahl said CRT needs its own set of HCPCS codes to officially and formally differentiate custom-fit and customized technology from DME, noting the absence of separate codes to this point is “why we’re in this mess right now.”

Meuser said that Medicare’s CRT wheelchair accessories reimbursement policies are an “attempt to drag us back into competitive bidding,” a program that CRT was excluded from in 2008 via the Medicare Improvements for Patients & Providers Act. “We have to unite to stop it,” he added.

The joint RESNA/NCART event, held in partnership with NRRTS, included a visit to Capitol Hill on July 14 to continue to urge policy makers to support the CRT industry by stopping wheelchair accessory funding cuts, and to create a separate Medicare benefit for CRT. The event included clinical educational sessions, poster presentations and an assistive technology exhibit hall.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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