Seeking a Niche in Health Care

Article excerpt

Health care reform, an issue that is dead in light of the Republican Congress, has left what will probably be a lasting legacy: managed care, one of the fastest growing segments of the health care industry.

Managed care is designed to contain health care costs by managing a patient's care from proposed treatment to final payment. A network of hospitals, physicians and other health care providers agree to offer services for lower patient fees.

According to the U.S. Department of Health, over half of all insured employees now participate in managed care plans, which include health maintenance organizations (HMOs). Some black small business owners are trying to carve out a niche for themselves in the managed care marketplace.

A good example is Branches Medical, a distributorship in Ft. Lauderhill, Fla., that sells medical supplies to hospitals, doctors' offices and alternative care facilities. Right now, Branches CEO Hamish Reed is looking to form alliances with other black-owned small businesses that serve the medical community. "We need to form alliances in response to what hospitals are doing; they're merging." As sales reps for 200 medical equipment manufacturers and 23 pharmaceutical firms, Reed and his business partners, his siblings, are sealing deal after deal in medical equipment sales--from syringes to medications.

Like many entrepreneurs, Reed balances his time between canvassing for accounts and figuring out when the next mega-medical merger will take place.

"When hospitals merge, we are no longer competing for one equipment contract per entity," says Reed. "Now there's one shopper buying for the whole 10-hospital conglomerate. And that means we will either rake in a lucrative contract or get used to brown bag lunches."

Although the state of health care in this country is still unresolved, some fields, like medical supplies and equipment sales, elder care, temporary help and messenger services, have proven to be viable markets for minority- and women-owned businesses. …