Close

CMS Reaches Out to HME Providers Affected by Hurricanes

Posted on in People Helping People

Hurricane Harvey drowned Corpus Christi to Houston, dumping 20-50” of rain over the course of six days, beginning Aug. 25. Barely two weeks later, Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida on Sept. 10, knocking out power and cell service for days.

CMS is Hearing the Stories of Independent Providers

If one good thing comes from the 2017 hurricane season, it’s that a dialogue is forming between CMS and independent providers. VGM members Gene Sego of Sego’s Home Medical Equipment in Titusville, Florida, and Jim Travis of Naples Oxygen in Naples, Florida, along with VGM’s Collin Brecher and Ronda Buhrmester, participated in a call with representatives from Health and Human Services, including representatives from CMS, on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

It’s the first time Sego has experienced CMS wanting to engage in a conversation. “It’s a pleasant surprise that CMS is extending their hand—we had a great dialogue,” Sego said.

CMS heard some great testimonies about how independent providers band together to get patients the care they need—and how it’s getting harder to serve those patients in times of disaster because of lack of resources to absorb the cost to do so. Shrinking reimbursements make it a fight to even sustain a normal HME operation, let alone in a time of minimum supply and great demand.

Independent HME Providers band together to get patients the care they need. #HMEUnited #HealthCareDebate #HME #DMEPOS @CMSGov

Sego, whose family has served as DME providers since 1946, illustrated the impact reimbursement cuts have had on providers by contrasting his ability to serve patients in the midst of the historic 2004 hurricane season to what he’s capable of doing now.

In 2004, Sego’s Home Medical ran a shelter full time for two continuous weeks while simultaneously keeping his storefront open—without power. Sego covered the cost of oxygen tanks and contents in addition to overtime costs incurred. While his bottom line felt the impact of that compassion, Sego did it because he loves taking care of patients. He was able to sustain operations through it because reimbursements were higher, billing was not as labor-intensive, and his team didn't have mountains of audits to trudge through. Now, with reimbursements where they are, disasters like these make it extremely burdensome to take care of patients.

“It’s challenging for me as a provider, because I don’t have the financial resources that I did in the past to be able to serve at the capacity I need and want to,” said Sego.

Even without manning a shelter full time, Sego, like other providers, is incurring big costs.

According to Sego, it costs around $900 per patient to provide oxygen tanks without power for a week, and they will only be reimbursed $17.30 for the month.

There is also a big question mark as to how many tanks he’ll lose amid the chaos.

"Even with the meticulous records we keep, in a disaster at this scale, it is inevitable that we'll lose some tanks and equipment," Sego said. 

Additionally, employees, who have worked upward of 16 hour days, need to be paid.

“I hope—I’d love it if—Medicare could see [the cost we’re incurring] and say that they’d repay providers during times like this,” said Sego. "The codes, reimbursements, and modifiers are already available. It would just take action and guidance by CMS on how we use them."

 

To show your support to independent HME providers affected by the recent hurricanes, request supplies or donate, visit www.vgmgroup.com/disaster-relief or call 844-416-1411