AAHomecare: synergy, strength through unity

Thursday, February 28, 2002

Last month, HME News published results of a poll revealing that some in our industry still believe that DME suppliers would be best served by a national organization focused solely on its issues. The impetus for this poll was AAHomecare's announcement of its acquisition of the American Home Care Association (AHCA), which primarily represents home health agencies, further strengthening AAHomecare's mission of representing the entire spectrum of the homecare industry. I believe that there is synergy and strength between the DME and home health businesses, since they have become increasingly intertwined on Capitol Hill, at CMS, and in day-to-day patient care. In these comments, I want to show why the DME industry's concerns are best served by a strong, united, industry-wide homecare association.

As a "traditional DME guy" who has been active at the state and national level for two decades, I have attended dozens of meetings on Capitol Hill. I see two fundamental changes since the creation of a unified AAHomecare: Congressional staffers are more frequently seeking counsel and advice from AAHomecare staff because they better understand the homecare industry; and they are more focused on our positive and cost-effective contributions to the health care system. With increasing competition between the various health care sectors for limited-to-shrinking health care dollars, a strong, clear, consistent and united message about the quality and value of home-based equipment and services is more important than ever. In fact, we can offer up homecare as a solution to our country's health care problems.

This past December, Congressman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, commended AAH for its messages about the value of homecare and for presenting the industry as "professional healthcare providers." This transformation of Congressional perception of the DME industry from "equipment jockeys" to professional healthcare providers has been facilitated by our union with the home health agencies through AAHomecare. And it doesn't stop there.

The DME industry accrues a wealth of other benefits from this relationship, including:

Greater regulatory access

As "providers," not "suppliers," AAH has literally walked through CMS Administrator Tom Scully's "open door" policy to deliver the homecare industry's concerns at the highest level.

Opportunities to benchmark

As the DME industry considers such issues as separate payment for services, we can learn from home health providers about potential clinical compliance requirements necessary to support such reimbursement.

Enhanced business opportunities

Increasingly, DME suppliers and home health providers are business partners. Many home health agencies either have a DME business or subcontract out DME services to a supplier, and both home health agencies and traditional suppliers offer infusion services.

I must admit, I had my doubts when we began the initial discussions about forming AAH from separate supplier and provider organizations. I had colleagues who expressed concern that their issues would be lost or diluted. But as we assembled our team at AAHomecare - both at the board and staff level - I saw a dedication to making a united association work. Members committed time and resources of their best people to serve on committees and councils.

AAHomecare is taking significant actions on behalf of its members. From global and long-term goals, such as envisioning future reimbursement mechanisms for homecare, to immediate goals, such as protecting adequate payment for drugs delivered to the home and fighting fee reduction initiatives like Inherent Reasonableness (IR) regulation and national competitive bidding, the association is working to ensure a stable economic and regulatory environment for providers. I am most proud of the oxygen retesting policy testimony marshalled by AAHomecare (revealing a lack of independent diagnostic testing facilities to conduct the required oximetry testing), our electronic CMN effort, and the leadership of our Re/hab and Assisitive Technology Council in revising HCPCS codes to better represent advances in technology.

At the same time, AAHomecare is offering the day-to-day business tools the industry needs to succeed, such as educational teleconferences, Medtrade educational tracks, and benchmarking surveys. The association's accomplishments, positions, and programs are all readily accessible for the industry to see at www.AAH.org, AAHomecare's Web site which receives close to 200,000 hits per month.

A lot of us are investing our time and money in AAHomecare so it can fully and effectively represent all aspects of the homecare industry and demonstrate the value of this patient-preferred setting for health care. It is OUR association, and ALL industry members should support it. To those who are critical of AAHomecare or are not members, I challenge you with this question: What are you doing to advance the homecare industry's interests? Your voice is being wasted if it is not joined with ours in advocating for the long-term success of the entire homecare industry.

- Steve Knoll is president of Knoll Patient Supply in Topeka, Kan., and an AAH board member. HME