WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 15, 2020)—A recent survey of more than 500 home medical equipment suppliers shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is seriously impacting suppliers’ access to products on account of supply chain disruptions and rising prices from manufacturers and distributors. The survey results show a rapidly changing operational and product cost landscape that presents significant challenges for an industry already dealing with unsustainable reimbursement rates from Medicare and other payer segments. The survey was completed in late April, with results summarized by health care research firm Dobson DaVanzo & Associates.

The disruption is especially severe for items directly related to treating patients with COVID-19. 80% of respondents noted difficulties in receiving oxygen and ventilators, with 97% citing delays in obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE). Suppliers also report significant delays for other equipment potentially used to treat COVID-19 patients—hospital beds (59%), CPAP/RADs (53%) and nebulizers (49%).

The delays are also being felt across other major HME product categories, as well.

Increased costs for many products are also a part of the new reality for many HME suppliers, according to the survey. Products cited most frequently by suppliers included PPE (86%), oxygen (67%), ventilators (48%) and hospital beds (47%).

Suppliers also noted the increased time and resources to ensure a safer operating environment or accommodate staff needs. The most frequently cited practices/items include:

•    92% - Cleaning/sanitizing facilities and vehicles
•    91% - Additional PPE for staff
•    90% - Cleaning equipment/supplies
•    88% - Researching updates from federal/local health agencies
•    83% - DMEPOS Delivery/Pickup

Other new requirements noted include communications efforts (78%), PPE for customers (74%), shipping DMEPOS (74%), limited personnel (74%), negotiating with vendors/others (73%), and technology for remote staff (65%).

“The COVID-19 pandemic is creating major operational, safety, and supply chain challenges for home medical equipment suppliers,” said Tom Ryan, AAHomecare president and CEO. “I am proud that our industry, along with virtually every segment of our nation’s healthcare infrastructure, has been able to answer the call to provide compassionate and effective care under extraordinary circumstances—but we need to make sure we have the resources and support we need to help limit the severity and duration of this crisis.”

“These survey findings drive home the point that the HME sector is subject to a new operating environment and cost structure as a result of this pandemic, and some of the safety requirements and new business practices we are seeing are likely to be with us even after the crisis fades,” Ryan added. “Holding the HME community to a reimbursement schedule for 2021 and beyond based on a bidding competition completed in the Fall of 2019 clearly isn’t sustainable or reasonable under these circumstances."

“We urge federal policymakers to put the next round of the bidding program on hold and work to develop a reimbursement plan that allows HME to provide home-based care for seniors, individuals with chronic conditions, and people with severe disabilities,” Ryan concluded. “This crisis underscores the clear need for a stronger investment in home-based care that will strengthen and support our entire healthcare system.”

See the survey findings here.