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Tarentum-based Blackburn’s pushes for better medical supply access for patients

August 17, 2018
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U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, talks with Pride Manufacturing Rep, Michael J. Stonfer about the Quantum Four Front chair while touring Blackburns Pharmacy in Tarentum. Wednesday August 8, 2018.

Georgie Blackburn has been traveling to Washington, D.C., for years to talk to politicians about the issues facing the medical supply industry and the difference her company’s products make in the lives of thousands of people.

After years of trying to get one of those politicians on her turf, she finally got her wish Wednesday.

Tarentum-based medical supply company Blackburn’s, where Blackburn is vice president of government relations and legislative affairs, hosted U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

“It’s one thing for me to go to D.C. and meet with our congressmen, and sit on different boards and talk about the issues,” she said. “It’s another thing for him to walk through our warehouse, see the amount of (wheel)chairs, where every single chair, every single piece of adaptive equipment, represents a child or an adult with a problem — it makes a difference in someone’s life, and that’s our mission.”

Doyle spent an hour with the company on a tour of all of Blackburn’s facilities, including its pharmacy, warehouse and customer service offices. He also participated in a roundtable discussion with Blackburn’s executives, University of Pittsburgh researchers and other industry professionals.

Medicare regulations discussed

The main reason for the meeting was to discuss proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid regulations.

Blackburn said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid is seeking input from medical suppliers for the first time since it began its competitive bidding process about 10 years ago.

The bidding process involves medical supply companies competing to have contracts for their products with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to serve certain geographical areas.

The competitive bidding process was created to save the government money on a range of products, including walkers, wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, hospital beds and prosthetics.

Many economists, industry groups and suppliers opposed the contract bidding when it was instituted because it cuts the number of suppliers.

It also eliminated the ability for seniors to get medical equipment from a local provider such as Blackburn’s because they are required to go through whatever company received the contract, which could be out of state.

Blackburn said some of the most notable proposed changes — which are seen as a step in the right direction by Blackburn’s — are to simplify the bidding process for contracts and create a more equitable rate that medical supply companies are paid for their services.

Blackburn said, over the past 10 years, the bidding process has become an uneven playing field with larger, out-of-state companies receiving contracts because they are the lowest bidders.

She said many other smaller, independent companies have gone out of business as a result of those regulations, but Blackburn’s has been able to evolve to stay in business.

Doyle said he was happy to be able to see the medical supply company’s headquarters and get a better understanding of the impact its equipment and services have on the lives of people who need their products.

“These are valuable sessions for me,” Doyle said. “This has been very helpful.”

Doyle, who currently serves as Tarentum’s congressman, will move to another district next year as a result of the state’s recent redistricting, but he values the impact the company has across the state and the tri-state region.

“You’re serving thousands of people that live in my district,” Doyle said. “Oftentimes, where we get our continuing education on other issues is by meeting stakeholders.”

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, emilybalser@tribweb.com or via Twitter @emilybalser.

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