CELA: Rehab providers, consumers storm Capitol Hill

Sunday, April 26, 2009

WASHINGTON -- The first thing you notice about Kevin Williams may be his complex wheelchair, but if you talk to him for a few minutes, you realize he's just another 31-year-old who wants to work (computer programming) and play (power soccer).

As part of the Continuing Education and Legislative Advocacy Conference (CELA), co-located at the HME Exposition & Conference in Baltimore, Kevin Williams and his mother, Andrea Williams, met with members of Congress on April 21. They told the lawmakers that if reimbursement for complex rehab continues to be cut, there won't be much to know about consumers like Kevin Williams.

"They'll exist not live," said Andrea Williams, a physical therapist who practices privately in Charlotte, N.C.

In all, 115 participants made 127 visits with Congressional staff members. Their two goals: Find sponsors for legislation seeking to rescind the 9.5% reimbursement cut that took effect Jan. 1, 2009, and take the temperature on carving out complex rehab from the DME benefit.

Kevin and Andrea Williams, who drove the eight or so hours from Charlotte to Baltimore in their conversion van, met with staff members for Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., and Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C. Sunrise Medical's Rita Hostak, who lives in North Carolina, accompanied them.

The Williamses were upbeat about their visits. One staffer, who was already well-versed on national competitive bidding and the 9.5% cut, told them that members of Congress need to hear more about the relationships complex rehab providers have in their communities. They want to know that they do more than drop off equipment, then take Medicare's money and run.

"We can do that," said Hostak, vice president of government relations for the Longmont, Colo.-based manufacturer, of the request.

Another staffer seemed optimistic when the Williamses suggested a visit with providers and consumers in Charlotte.

During a breakfast meeting prior to the visits, Simon Margolis, executive director of NRRTS, which sponsors CELA along with NCART and the University of Pittsburg, told participants: "We need to tell these people's stories."

That's what the Williamses did. Mainly, they told the story of what would happen if Kevin didn't have access to his $13,900 complex wheelchair and $10,000 speech-generating device. About $24,000 is a small price to pay, they say, for his mobility and independence, not to mention protection against costly conditions like pressure ulcers that often result from ill-fitting equipment.

"I go out in my community and sit on boards to help Charlotte be more accessible," Kevin Williams said. "Without equipment in good working order, I would be stuck in the house doing nothing."