AAHomecare Legislative Conference: Senators, economists, candidate address providers

Sunday, March 9, 2008

WASHINGTON - A power-packed lineup of speakers headlined AAHomecare's Legislative Conference last week. They included, among others, two U.S. senators, a U.S. representative, three academic economists speaking on the folly on competitive bidding, a congressional candidate and the director of the Office of Management & Budget. Here are some of the event's highlights.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
The senator called himself "a true believer" in home healthcare, and agrees with the industry that competitive bidding will drive providers out of business and deprive beneficiaries of access to home medical equipment. He pledged to do "everything I can" to make sure lawmakers do not impose additional cuts on HME this year, especially to avoid a mandated reduction to physician reimbursement slated for July 1. "Be assured that I am not going to stand by and let your industry pay for other(s) in the Medicare program," Roberts said.

Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa.
Like Roberts, Altmire is a staunch supporter of the HME industry. He's also a realist. To avoid additional cuts, the industry must fight hard for its share of the Medicare pie--and never stop fighting. Once you stop, another interest group will take your place and push your message to the sidelines, he said.

Economist Brian O'Roark, Robert Morris University
0'Roark co-authored the study "The Impact of Competitive Bidding on the Market for DME." The study, commissioned by the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Suppliers (PAMS) and paid for by Pride Mobility, called competitive bidding a boondoggle in the making. For 25 years or more, deregulation has been preferred to regulation and with good reason, he said. Deregulation increases competition, lowers prices and improves customer services, O'Roark said. By applying competitive bidding in its current form to home medical equipment, and regulating the industry to a greater degree--and driving many providers out of business--CMS may see a temporary reduction in reimbursement, but in the long run prices will go up. "When there are fewer people to compete with, prices go up," he said. "This is the pattern that happens time and time again."

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
The senator called healthcare one of the top three issues facing the nation this century. The other two? Foreign policy and energy. Of the three, he called healthcare the most difficult and befuddling. "When it comes to healthcare, there are a lot of opinions. We can describe the problem, but none of us know what we ought to be doing." That said, he agrees that HME is part of the solution to lowering the nation's healthcare costs. "We know it is less expensive to take care of people in their homes," he said. "It is inescapable. As we move forward with the issue of healthcare reform, it is important that your voice be heard."

Jim Nussle, director, Office of Management & Budget
As a key architect of President Bush's 2009 budget, which proposes cuts to oxygen and power wheelchairs, Nussle is, like the president, a proponent of competitive bidding. "The administration continues to believe in encouraging market competition," he said. "We've seen some savings in pilot programs and therefore that remains popular."

Dan Meuser Pennsylvania Congressional candidate
Meuser left his position as president of Pride Mobility last year to run for Congress. During a fundraising event Thursday morning, he told 60 or so supporters that if he's elected "you will always have an open door and a good friend in Congress. I can't imagine why I wouldn't be the leading (industry) advocate. There is no silver bullet to the pending healthcare crisis, but homecare is one of the solutions. I understand that. It's in my blood."