AMARILLO, TX – When the Middle East erupts, prices at the gas pump go up. The same is true when there is an oil rig explosion in the Gulf—or when a hurricane hits the coast. All of us feel the pain at the pump. The gas pump does not differentiate among socio-economic classes. The poor and the rich pay the same amount at the pump, and we have all come to expect it.
Reality dictates that it is time for our senior citizens to feel some pain when it comes to purchasing DME. Understandably, the Greatest Generation (the World War II folks) expect Medicare to pay for everything.
This is what they were told from the beginning, and this is what they have come to expect. Well, the Greatest Generation is leaving us, and they are being replaced by the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). Boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day.
The “first generation of DME suppliers” grew up taking care of the Greatest Generation. The suppliers took care of their every need and went out of their way to make sure that their patients felt no pain. All of this was before audits, competitive bidding, and lower reimbursement—meaning that the first generation of DME suppliers had enough money to allow their patients not to “feel pain at the gas pump.”
We now have a “second generation of DME suppliers.” These are the new people in the industry who are coming to Medtrade for the first time. These are the new people in the industry who have never not known audits and competitive bidding. These new suppliers recognize that their customers are not the Greatest Generation, but are the Baby Boomers.
And what does the “second generation of DME suppliers” know about Boomers? They know that Boomers want to be going to Rolling Stones concerts and running triathlons up until the day they die.
The second generation of DME suppliers knows that Boomers want to have a good, active quality of life until they die. The second generation recognizes that the most precious asset Boomers have is time. Many Boomers do not want to wait around for Medicare approval. They want their DME now……they are willing to “pay at the gas pump.”
Today’s DME supplier can no longer coddle its customers. The money is simply not there to do so. All that today’s DME supplier can do is to provide the best service that it can afford to give. If the customer wants even better service, then he must pay for it. If the customer is unhappy about having to pay for concierge service, then he can complain to Capitol Hill and Baltimore. Certainly, Congress and CMS will listen to senior citizens much more readily than they will listen to DME suppliers.
At the end of the day, though, even if there is an outcry by senior citizens about the lack of service, the money is simply not there. Medicare will only be able to pay what it can pay…..and that is not much. The customer, then, has a choice. He can accept what Medicare pays for. Or he can dig into his pocket and pay for the concierge service. Many Boomers are prepared to dig into their pockets. This is where the DME industry is going…..to the cash model.
Our senior citizens are already accustomed to paying at the gas pump. They will not be too upset about having to pay for a portion of their DME.
Jeffrey S. Baird, JD, is chairman of the Health Care Group at Brown & Fortunato PC, Amarillo, Tex.