Bad weather: All in a day's work

Friday, July 31, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine--When 90-mile-an-hour winds swept through eastern Kansas recently, Mt. Carmel Medical Equipment shifted into high gear.

The freak windstorm knocked down power lines, leaving oxygen patients without electricity. Mt. Carmel delivered 130 tanks to about 30 patients, most of them capped out on their oxygen benefit, said Manager Gary Miller.

“I had an employee working overtime, and he put about 150 miles on the van that day for what are essentially un-reimbursable services,” he said. “These were patients in rural areas that were difficult to get to, and many didn’t even realize the storm had gone through.”

Miller planned to craft a letter to his congressman that outlines Mt. Carmel’s response, a reminder that, despite the 36-month oxygen cap and a 9.5% reimbursement cut, providers still take care of patients.

Using a local incident like this is a good way to catch lawmakers’ attention, said Michael Reinemer, vice president of communications and policy for AAHomecare.

“Nothing is more important to a member of Congress than what happens to the most vulnerable constituents back in the home district,” he said. “If everybody did this two or three times a year, we’d be in much better shape.”

There is still a misperception among policymakers about the HME industry, said provider George Kucka. He recently hired a media company to help him create a PowerPoint presentation on oxygen therapy.

His motivation: A comment in January by Leslie Norwalk, then-acting CMS administrator.

“Norwalk said, ‘Your problem is everyone is tired of paying $7,000 for a $587 screwdriver,” said Kucka, president of Fairmeadows Home Health Center in Schererville, Ind., and executive director of the Association of Indiana Home Medical Equipment Suppliers. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘In 25 years we haven’t changed that perception?’”