Call-in successful, but now is not the time to take a holiday

Sunday, November 18, 2007

WATERLOO, Iowa - HME providers lit up the Capitol switchboard last Wednesday, calling by the thousands to protest proposed cuts to oxygen and power mobility as part of the VGM-sponsored Enough is Enough: Shut Down the Switchboard Day.

The goal was to get 50,000 people to call their U.S. representatives in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of the HME industry and urge them to co-sponsor bills H.R. 1845 and S. 1428 (Medicare Durable Medical Equipment Access Act), and H.R. 621 and S. 1484 (Home Oxygen Patient Protection Act).

By Friday, about 8,000 calls were reported to The VGM Group. John Gallagher, vice president of government relations, estimated that for every call registered with VGM, there were three or four that the organization didn't hear about.

"We are very pleased," he said. "Timing is everything so it's important we got those calls in."

Both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee met last week to discuss the "doc fix," in which lawmakers looking to stave off a reimbursement cut for physicians are eyeing further cuts to the DME benefit.

"I just had a call from a member of Congress from Alabama, who said 'We got the message,'" said Gallagher. "He told me, 'We will let leadership know that we don't support any additional cuts.'"

There are definite opinions on "both sides of the fence," said Rose Schafhauser. executive director of the Midwest Association of Medical Equipment Services (MAMES).

"One senator in Minnesota called me back and was adamantly opposed to making changes to oxygen (cuts)," she said. "I asked him how he'd feel if his 90-year-old mother had problems with her equipment in the middle of the night and he said, 'Well, can't they use the Aprias and Lincares?'"

In Democratic Sen. Max Baucus' home state of Montana, Lee Guay, coordinator for Apex Home Medical Systems in Helena, rallied employees and 1,000 patients to "crash his phone lines."

"We sent letters to all our patients to say no against the 18-month cap," said Guay.

With lawmakers back in their home districts until Dec. 3, now is the not the time to take a holiday from lobbying, said Gallagher.

"Follow up with faxes or e-mails, reinforcing there should be no additional cuts, or say thanks for supporting the bill," advised Gallagher.