AAH Pres. Kay Cox lobbies for quality patient care

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Government skepticism about the integrity of home medical equipment provision has historically been the impetus for Medicare reimbursement cuts and coverage cutbacks. And quality patient care isn’t the first image legislators and agency administrators usually have of HME providers.

That mentality must change, says AAHomecare President Kay Cox.

As the debate over national competitive bidding reaches a fever pitch, Cox has been doing everything in her power to bury that perception. The key to winning converts on the government side, she says, is to make patient care the primary theme of the industry’s lobbying efforts.

“Health care is a business with a mission,” she said. “It’s not a commodity we can afford to cut. Any time there is a cut, it hurts patients and their families.”

Whether this strategy helps excise national competitive bidding from federal Medicare reform remains to be seen. As the U.S. House and Senate were reconciling versions of their respective bills at press time in early July, hopes were high that competitive bidding would not be part of the final package.

“I’m optimistic that it will be left out because we’ve heard some members of Congress say they won’t vote for the bill if it has competitive bidding in it,” Cox said.

If lawmakers are getting the industry’s message, it could be due to the lobbying blitzkrieg spearheaded by Cox and AAHomecare. In the weeks leading up to Congress’ drafting of both houses’ Medicare Reform bills, HME lobbyists constantly swarmed Capitol Hill.

“We’ve increased our presence on the Hill tremendously – we have needed everyone for this battle,” Cox said. “We’ve been focused on patients and Congress has been focused on patients. We’re getting them to realize that local care will be gone with competitive bidding. These patients are their constituents and we’re trying to get them to realize that.”

AAHomecare Chairman Joel Mills is a seasoned veteran of industry lobbying campaigns and says Cox has put together a vigorous, well-coordinated effort, especially since she’s only been with association since June 1.

“She leapt into this with a tremendous amount of energy and dedication,” Mills said. “Since she’s been here the information stream has been flowing steadily. She has done an incredible job keeping us on message. This will prove to be successful with whatever legislation comes out of the conference committee.”

It’s hard to imagine having a more intimidating job introduction than the one Cox had, taking over the association during one of its most contentious Medicare struggles. Yet Cox says she fully knew what to expect going in and that longtime experience in healthcare public policy has conditioned her to sitting in the hot seat.

“I’ve been through battles on the Hill, I know the players and I know what to do when a Medicare crisis comes about,” she said.

A native Texan and graduate of the University of Tennessee, Cox has more than 20 years’ experience in various segments of the healthcare industry. She displayed her leadership potential early on by helping to launch a hospital chain called Health Trust and founding her own healthcare consulting company.

No stranger to home medical equipment, Cox’ first brush with the industry came in the mid-1980s when she attended a National Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers conference while working for Nashville-based HealthCare Corporation of America. And her most recent employer, Fort Smith, Ark.-based nursing home chain Beverly Enterprises, purchased MK Medical, a Fresno, Calif.-based HME provider in 1998.

Coming directly to AAHomecare from a long-term care environment, Cox says providers on that side of the industry have a lot in common with home care and that together they can serve as an effective lobbying team.

“We share patient populations and are involved in the same regulatory segment,” she said. “I’ve worked with both [long-term care advocacy groups the American Health Care Association and the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging] in the past and will continue to work with them on our issues.”

Likewise, Mills said Cox is working hard to forge closer ties between the home health and HME constituencies.

“She’s doing a great job with it,” he said. “We have regular government relations calls that deal with all [membership] issues and she’s paying attention to all of them equally. She seems receptive to ideas from all parts of the membership and sees that we represent the consensus.”

To Cox, improving communications became a priority because it fits her leadership pattern.

“Throughout my career, part of my management philosophy has been communicate, communicate, communicate,” she said. “I’ve found this philosophy to be effective regardless of the type of organization I’m working in.” HME