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Gone are the days of scrambling for toilet paper. But the pandemic continues to wreak havoc in supply chains.
Pet food is scarce. Restaurants are warning customers that their favorite dishes may not be on the menu. Then there is the shortage of semiconductor chips, which has increased the price and reduced the availability of medical devices.
Waiting for medical equipment can be life threatening. Our leaders must therefore make strengthening the medical supply chain a higher priority.
They can start by making sure that the companies that supply and maintain medical equipment are paid enough to compete for the chips and scarce raw materials that they and their patients need.
Many of these companies care for homebound patients who depend on things like motorized wheelchairs, ventilators, and home oxygen. Over 63 million of these patients are covered by Medicare.
Before the pandemic, Medicare payment rates to home medical device providers were barely enough to keep them in business. Over the past decade, some 35% of providers have closed or stopped serving Medicare beneficiaries.
The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges they face. Suppliers wait months to receive parts to fix things like electric wheelchairs. The prices of some parts have increased by 30% since early 2020 due to a limited supply.
During the same period, the cost of steel for wheelchairs and hospital beds jumped by more than 60%, while the cost of polycarbonate plastics, used for oxygen tubes, nebulizers, cans, oxygen masks and PAP, increased by 100%.
The costs of shipping containers are partly to blame for these dramatic spikes. Since the start of the pandemic, the cost of these containers has increased by more than 1,200%.
Then there’s the chip shortage, which has disrupted production of everything from blood pressure monitors to remote-controlled hospital beds.
When the price of inputs increases in other industries, companies generally pass the increase on to consumers. But home medical equipment providers are constrained by predetermined health insurance prices that do not reflect today’s costs.
This allows them to either stop accepting new patients or absorb the cost increases they face – perhaps by downsizing, narrowing their geographic service area, limiting product selection for meet everyone’s needs by reducing complementary but essential services, etc. .
All of these options decrease patient outcomes and access.
Congress and the administration must take action to ensure that home care remains viable and accessible for those who need it, now and in the future. This will require addressing the chip shortage.
To his credit, President Biden is taking action to strengthen America’s supply lines. He created working groups to identify bottlenecks and bring semiconductor chip manufacturing back to the United States.
In the meantime, Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services must ensure that home medical equipment providers have the resources to compete for scarce technological inputs. This means increasing the payout rates.
Manufacturers of medical devices should not lose bidding wars over rare electronic components to non-healthcare providers just because they have the ability to raise prices.
These devices save the healthcare system billions of dollars a year. It does not make financial sense to deprive providers of home medical supplies of funds. To survive, they must receive an amount commensurate with their increasing expenses.
Thomas Ryan is President and CEO of the American Association for Homecare (aahomecare.org). This piece originally appeared on InsideSources.com.
NOTE: The articles published on the WCN Blog pages are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Wilson County News, its management or its staff.