Association courts new finance committee chairman

Sunday, December 31, 2006

HELENA, Mont. - U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., doesn't take over as chairman of the high profile and powerful Finance Committee until this month, but in early December, the state's HME association was already trying to get his ear.
Several members of the Big Sky Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers were scheduled to speak with Baucus' staff during a Dec. 8 teleconference. Their goal: to familiarize the senator with home medical equipment and lobby him to support two bills, one that would repeal the 36-month cap on Medicare oxygen reimbursement and one that would lessen the blow of national competitive bidding.
"Honestly, I don't know that he knows what we're all about," said Peggy Michalsky, vice president of Big Sky and general manager at Juro's Home Medical in Billings, Mont. "We'll be satisfied if he listens to us and says, 'What you do is valuable.' In a perfect world, he would co-sponsor both bills."
The Senate Finance Committee writes tax legislation and bills affecting Medicare and other entitlement programs.
Because Baucus is a "real numbers man," the association plans to present his staff with data from state hospitals that shows the value of home oxygen therapy: how many ER visits are related to respiratory conditions like COPD; how many of those visits end up in hospitals stays; and how much those hospital stays cost.
"We want to show him that we're the solution, not the problem," said Michael Calcaterra, president of Big Sky and a branch manager for Norco Medical in Missoula, Mont. "Long-term oxygen therapy helps to keep people out of hospitals."
The data should hit home, especially since beneficiaries in vast and rural states like Montana could be some of the worse hit if the current plan to cap reimbursement and transfer title of equipment to them, beginning in 2009, moves forward.
"If a beneficiary who owns his equipment lives 65 miles from Billings, what provider is going to go out there and service it at 3 a.m.?" Michalsky said. "They're not thinking about the logistics--that's the kicker."
Baucus replaces Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.