AAH Legislative Conference

Sunday, June 10, 2007

WASHINGTON - In one of the largest turnouts in recent years, 225 providers trekked to Washington last week as part of AAHomecare's Legislative Conference. In all, attendees visited with 250 lawmakers to lobby for industry issues, including bills intended to lesson the blow of competitive bidding and to roll back the 36-month cap on oxygen reimbursement.

"It's a good solid turnout, but we are already thinking about next year and how we can increase the number of attendees," said AAHomecare President/CEO Tyler Wilson.

If providers want to influence Medicare policy in a direction that favors the industry, one way to do that is to attend the Legislative Conference and help the industry raise its voice and profile, Wilson said. He was not alone in that sentiment. Speakers Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told attendees as much.

"You are on the right track being here in Washington," Specter said. "You've got to keep it up. We're working on immigration, financing the war in Iraq, issues of education, what to do with Iran and North Korea. You have to attract the attention of your representatives. If you can't see them here, go see them in their home towns."

Said Ross: "It's important to show that home care saves money. You've got to get that message out."

The industry also must put a face on home care, Ross said. Providers can help do that by inviting lawmakers to drive along on some deliveries and meet patients.

"Then when they are up here dealing with these issues they will understand it a lot more," Ross said.

Here are some highlights from the June 5-7 event.

-- CMS's Acting Deputy Administrator Herb Kuhn said that Medicare has begun to move away from being a passive payer of claims to an agency that: 1.) helps patients stay healthy; and 2) avoids unnecessary payments and looks for value in what purchases. Part of that search for value includes competitive bidding for durable medical equipment. "DME is a critical part of the Medicare program," he said. He also thanked providers for submitting comments that helped shape and improve the final plan for competitive bidding.
-- Economist Dr. Douglas Holtz-Eakin expressed a different perspective on competitive bidding. He said competitive bidding made him "squeamish." America has a long history of allowing companies to fail, he said. That often happens when new companies enter the marketplace, fight like dogs and drive other companies out of business. Competitive bidding will limit new companies from entering the market and therefore decrease competition. "It's a recipe for disaster," he said.
-- Specter and Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., said the nation's ballooning budget deficit makes it tough--but not impossible--for the industry to roll back reimbursement cuts. Currently, about 45 representatives have signed onto the Tanner-Hobson bill, which would allow any willing provider to participate in competitive bidding. To make a case that the bill should be signed into law will require 75 to 100 co-sponsors, he said.
-- Alan Landauer, chairman of Landauer Metropolitan in Mount Vernon, N.Y., received unanimous approval to become the next chairman of AAHomecare. He replaces Tom Ryan, who served two years as chairman.