Consumer group pressures Congress to spare rehab

Sunday, February 1, 2009

WASHINGTON - The ALS Association made a last minute appeal to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee this month, urging members to include an exemption for complex power wheelchairs from Medicare's 9.5% reimbursement cut in their forthcoming economic stimulus package.

"This level of reimbursement cut may prevent people with ALS from obtaining the sophisticated equipment and services that are required to respond to the progressive, debilitating, nature of the disease," stated Steve Gibson, the association's vice president of government relations and public affairs, in a Jan. 13 letter to Senate Finance Committee members. 

Last Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an $819 billion, two-year stimulus plan by a 244-to-188 vote. The package includes $87 billion in aid for state Medicaid programs, but no relief for the complex rehab industry. Senate Democrats, however, are expected to bring their version of a stimulus package to the floor today, according to news reports.

While it appears highly unlikely that Congress will include an exemption in the stimulus package, insiders said last week, when it comes to consumer involvement, every little bit helps. 

"The fact that the ALS Association and other consumer groups have been weighing in with members of key committees on the need for an exemption, is building the type of support that we need," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. 

Industry stakeholders have already begun to scan the horizon for future legislative vehicles. There may be opportunities in a doc-fix bill (each year Congress addresses physician payments under Medicare) or a larger Medicare bill, sources said.

"Everything's a moving target at this point," said Sharon Hildebrandt, executive director of NCART.

In the meantime, it's important for industry and consumer groups to keep up the pressure on Congress. State associations must get involved, too, because states like Washington have applied the 9.5% cut to their Medicaid fee schedules, sources said.

"We need to get state organizations to send letters to state houses," said Simon Margolis, executive director of NRRTS. "We might even have more success on a state level if we can get associations and individual consumers to put some pressure on."