Associations: Keep up the momentum

Sunday, August 24, 2008

YARMOUTH, Maine - While the national political spotlight shines on this year's historic presidential campaign, HME industry leaders say district races across the country are where providers will reap the biggest political gains.

"Regardless of who wins the White House, the impact for the industry is going to be in the House and Senate," said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group.

Going into the elections, Democrats hold majorities in both the House (236 to 199) and Senate (51 to 49). All 435 seats in the House are up for grabs, as well as 34 Senate seats.

Democrats will probably retain their control, said Gallagher, but providers should pick and choose carefully which candidates to support.

"At the district level, the incumbent is almost always going to (win)," he said. "Most likely, where the seats will change is where there are first-termers, as well as retiring members. It's a good place to take a look at folks who haven't been real good to the industry."

To help providers do their homework, the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES) in July launched "Win at Home 2008" on its Web site, Providers can get district-by-district analysis of elections; tip sheets with topics like "How to Get to Know Your Congressman;" and a handout for legislators detailing the steps it takes to become an HME provider.

"We offer suggestions about how to get involved but we are not recommending specific candidates," said Wayne Stanfield, director of NAIMES.

Other associations are taking a more direct approach.

Karyn Estrella, executive director for New England Medical Equipment Dealers (NEMED), said the association has raised more than $11,000 through its political action committee. NEMED will make campaign contributions to candidates throughout the region.

"Over the last several years, we've developed relationships with elected officials," she said. "With the exception of New Hampshire senators, everyone was in support of (the bill to delay competitive bidding). We need to go back out and support them."

Riding on the wave of recent industry successes, industry stakeholders say they expect the momentum they've gained to continue right up to the polls.

"I think the lessons learned from the NCB effort show that when we are all pulling in the same direction, we can have a positive impact," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. "People are energized."