NCART: "Increased Expenses Will Continue"

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Mobility Management asked NCART Executive Director Don Clayback and NCART Associate Director Mickae Lee for their perspectives on how the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact day-to-day Complex Rehab Technology operations.

Q: What long-term impacts do you see for CRT and its stakeholders? For example, we’ve seen that shipping delays are slowing down production because manufacturers cannot get the raw materials they need.

A: CRT manufacturers and providers are continuing to work both internally and externally on finding solutions to the many challenges from the pandemic. While the hope is we will begin to see improvements as we move farther into the year, these issues will likely extend through at least 2022 and likely longer.

These COVID-19 challenges have been significant and continue to present major difficulties to people with disabilities having timely access to CRT equipment and supporting services.

Supply chain issues have been costly in terms of both extended delivery times and increased freight costs. CRT products typically consist of components from multiple manufacturers to develop the final CRT configuration (wheelchair bases, seating and positioning items, specialty controls). So you are relying on several manufacturers, not just one, and each manufacturer will have its own system and shipping protocols. This compounds the barriers and costs.

The shortage of computer chips has a direct negative impact on access to power wheelchairs and related electronic equipment. The solution to much of this relates to what progress will be made in overseas markets.

CRT manufacturers and providers have incurred significant cost increases on many fronts. These include increased expenses related to provision of personal protective equipment for employees and customers, higher payroll expenses due to the COVID-19 environment, and the need to retain qualified staff in a time of national workforce shortages, major raises in freight charges, increased material costs (product costs and related surcharges), and higher distribution expenses related to rising gas prices.

These are not short-term issues, and solutions need to be provided so access to CRT is not negatively impacted.

Q: We’ve seen the prices rise for everything from gas to groceries. Other retailers pass along costs to consumers… but that’s not an option for CRT. Do you anticipate that higher costs of doing business will continue? How does this impact various stakeholders, from manufacturers to suppliers to consumers?

A: The expectation is that the increased expenses mentioned above will certainly continue based on the new “operating environment.” As you indicate, CRT is funded through a thirdparty insurance plan system. So the real challenge in protecting continued access is getting needed increases in fee schedules to cover these higher costs.

NCART and other stakeholders are working with federal, state, and private payors to obtain needed fee schedule increases and other types of financial assistance. It will be critical that these increases be implemented so that CRT access does not suffer.

Q: What can stakeholders do to preserve access not just to CRT for consumers, but also to preserve the development of innovative new technologies?

A: Advocates need to do more of what we have been doing. That is to educate policy makers on what CRT is, the benefits it brings, and the access barriers that need to be eliminated. This increased awareness and understanding will accomplish two things. It will get needed policies in place that will improve access, which is critical. And, also important, it will create a stable economic environment that will encourage businesses to invest in continued research and development. A healthy marketplace will drive better products and more competition.

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Mobility Management.

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