CEO voices 'concern' that more providers don't belong to AAH

Sunday, December 31, 2006

After three and a half months on the job, AAHomecare's new CEO Tyler Wilson has grasped the lay of the HME landscape. Now he's out to reshape it.
In addition to building relationships with the new Democratic majority in Congress, Wilson plans to strengthen the association's in-house government relations department; bolster its educational offerings and other membership services; convince lawmakers and regulators that HMEs do not receive excessive reimbursement; and, most importantly, boost membership, which currently stands at about 550 individual HME companies, representing 3,000 locations.
Wilson assumed the association's top post in September after working as the executive director of the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (AOPA) since 2000. He replaced Kay Cox, who resigned last winter. HME News talked to Wilson in late November. Here's what he had to say:
HME News: Since joining AAHomecare, has anything surprised you about membership and how the association operates?
Tyler Wilson: I don't think I would characterize anything as a surprise. I am concerned that more companies aren't members of the association. When I look at all of the challenges, threats and/or opportunities on Capitol Hill for the industry, I can't image how any HME company can afford not to be engaged in their national association. I'm looking at the reasons for that internally, but then I have to throw the question back to the industry: Why aren't more companies involved in this national effort? They put themselves at risk if they are not focused and engaged on what is happening here in Washington. Everything is open to debate. Everything is on the table, and they need to have a strong voice. That means being a member of the association and, where they have expertise, serving on the councils we have.
HME: You said the industry needs to be a little more cohesive; what do you mean?Wilson: I'm talking about the association itself, making sure we don't compartmentalize ourselves and get into silos. When people are ill and receiving treatment at home, it may involve a hospital bed, oxygen, home health services, but they are thinking of it as all rolled up in one bundle; they are not thinking of the industry as just oxygen providers or hospital bed providers or home health services. I think we have to be careful and understand how people on the outside perceive us and work with that to present a total homecare picture as we go to CMS and to the public and to Capitol Hill. We need to remind folks that we are the one association that represents the entire spectrum of home care.
HME: What can AAHomecare do internally to boost membership?
Wilson: We have to provide services and benefits that go beyond government relations. That is always going to be a critical component to our menu of benefits and services, but we need to go beyond that.
HME: Have you come up with anything?
Wilson: We have to give our members the tools to adapt to the changing reimbursement climate. When I think of those tools, I think about education. I think about training and information. We'll be examining where there are opportunities in those broad areas.
HME: The industry faces plenty of regulatory and reimbursement challenges on Capitol Hill. Are there any opportunities?
Wilson: We've got a great story--with the demographics in the country and the fact that home care is much less expensive than being in a hospital. Everyone would rather receive home care than be in a hospital.
HME: You hear all the time that an association is only as strong as its membership. Is there a critical mass? Is more always better?
Wilson: More is better for a couple of obvious reasons. More members provide the association with more resources. With that comes an ability to provide research and good, strong data and to hire a strong staff at the association. More members also translate into a bigger political action committee and an effective grassroots network. In short, industries that have the deeper pockets and more resources are generally more successful on Capitol Hill.
HME: The Democrats seem very interested in health care. Do you think they will be more favorably disposed to HMEs than the Republicans have been?
Wilson: That is too early to predict. The Democrats will face the same budget issues that confronted the Republicans, and they will have to make some hard decisions. Maybe it will be more bipartisan, and I think that will help home care because we are a nonpartisan industry. Everyone gets sick and everyone needs the benefits that home care provides.
HME: National competitive bidding begins in 2007, but, otherwise, do you expect things to calm down for the industry this year?
Wilson: I'm not making any predictions on what the first part of 2007 will look like, but we're bolstering our government relations effort internally so that we are well prepared for whatever we need to do. Lets hope the darkest clouds are behind us. I think reimbursement for oxygen will be up for discussion in 2007. We will also closely track power mobility and other homecare issues to determine whether legislative or regulatory actions are required.