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Impending cuts for sleep apnea therapy will affect level of service, says local business owner

The owner of a local business providing products and services for people with sleep apnea said she was hoping the local MPP would go to bat for her small business, but so far her attempts to have a face-to-face meeting with him have been rebuffed
20210914 Stacie Truman Northern Respiratory KA
Stacie Truman, co-owner of Northern Respiratory on Trunk Road, says impending government cuts to how much is covered by the government for sleep apnea devices will affect the level of service her business can provide. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

A local provider of equipment and services for people with sleep apnea says provincial funding cuts that come into effect next month will have an effect on her small business and the patients it serves.

Stacie Truman is a registered nurse and owner of the Trunk Road location of Northern Respiratory, a business that provides patients with positive airway pressure (PAP) machines to deal with the effects of sleep apnea.

On Oct. 1 the provincial government will cut the fixed price it allows PAP machines and $550 from the current price of $860. Truman said this is the fourth government cut she has seen in the 21 years she has been in the field.

“The costs keep going up and the funding keeps going down and you can see it’s a perfect storm,” she said.

Truman notes that patients with a doctor’s prescription can pick up a PAP machine just about anywhere, including online. She said the difference with her business is the expertise she and the two respiratory therapists she employs as health care professionals offer.

The company provides in-patient services like mask fitting before the sale and after-sale support including remote monitoring and technical support for the CPAP or APAP machines.

She notes that other professionals like chiropractors or massage therapists can bill for their services and have them subsidized by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, but not for the services provided by her company.

“We provide those services to the patient within that funding model from the Ministry of Health. At this point they are willing to pay for the unit but nothing else,” she said. “Now we are left to ask how we can provide patients with the best quality service for what that patient needs and not bill for that.”

Sleep apnea can cause airways to be blocked while a person is sleeping, resulting in a reduction in oxygen the body receives. Truman said in some cases this can have a life-or-death effect.

“When a patient is compliant on CPAP therapy, that reduces the costs to the health care system,” she said. “The average cost of a heart attack can be $50,000 to the system or higher. If you can prevent it doing something as simple as going on a PAP machine, is that not worth the effort and time from the Ministry of Health perspective, but also the patient's perspective?”

The Trunk Road location of Northern Respiratory was opened by Truman and her financial partners in April.

Truman said as the owner of a local small business she is disappointed requests she made for a face-to-face talk with Sault MPP Ross Romano about the cuts have so far been ignored. Her first request was made months ago.

“I did reach out, I didn’t hear anything back,” said Truman. “We reached out again and got an email saying they will send it off to the ministry and I am like, no I don’t want you to send it to them. They’re the ones who are providing the cuts. I want to talk to you to show how it affects me and members of our community.”

SooToday reached out to Romano’s office on Tuesday for comment but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.

In an emailed statement recently sent to BayToday, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli said the cut is good news for Ontarians who rely on these devices.

"Through the new model, client copayments are expected to decrease, resulting in real cost savings for people that need to use these kinds of devices. The Assistive Devices Program (ADP) pricing is in alignment with the findings of the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, and was confirmed through a review of vendor invoices with manufacturer-to-vendor cost for PAP devices. The new funding model will align the support from the government with the actual cost of manufacturing."

The Ontario Home Respiratory Services Association says its own independent study confirmed that most PAP device vendors/providers, many of which are small businesses already struggling with the challenges imposed by COVID-19 and lockdowns, cannot buy PAP equipment below the new fixed prices.

"As a result, many will become unprofitable or have to change business models to compensate for lost funding and coverage for patients," it adds.

Truman noted that patients don’t have to buy CPAP machines from her company, but said the before and after care by the registered medical professionals in her office can offer a higher level of service.  

“You can go online and buy a CPAP, all you need is a doctor’s prescription. Then what? You just have a box,” she said. “Who is going to help you with this? Who is going to help you fit your mask?”

“We want to not have to put any added costs on the patient but still be able to give the best service we can,” she added.

— with files from BayToday