D.C. pols unveil COPD Caucus

Monday, May 31, 2004

WASHINGTON - The congressional spotlight on COPD and home oxygen therapy brightened considerably in April when Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, announced the formation of a COPD Caucus.

The caucus has dedicated itself to educating Americans about COPD and promoting policies that improve the lives of COPD patients. Sen. Blanch Lincoln, D-Ark., Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., will join Crapo as co-chairs.

COPD is the fourth leading killer disease in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 119,000 Americans annually. The CDC estimates that 24 million American suffer from COPD, but only 10 million have been diagnosed with the disease.

The caucus intends to develop a national Medicare coverage policy for pulmonary rehabilitation of COPD, improvements in patient access related to air travel and supplemental oxygen and competitive bidding for ambulatory oxygen. A spokesman in Crapo’s office said the caucus will not take a position on these issue until it has solidified its membership.

While the elevation of interest in COPD is welcome, some in the home oxygen industry worry that home oxygen patients might actually play second fiddle to larger special interests that bring their own message to the caucus.

At the first U.S. COPD Coaltion meeting last year, which spawned the Caucus, Bob McCoy noticed lots of politicking and networking and very little focus on the wheezing patients who showed up to trumpet their issues.

“The caucus will raise awareness of COPD,” said McCoy, managing director of Valley Inspired Products in Apple Valley, Minn. “The door is open, but we need to change the way we approach our agendas. Now, it’s all about who represents the patient and who gets paid and not how the patient gets better therapy.”

When it comes to a position for ambulatory oxygen, the father of home oxygen therapy, Dr. Tom Petty, said there must be reimbursement for modern, state-of the art, ambulatory oxygen therapy.

“As more younger people are going on oxygen, some of these people still work,” said Petty. “They still want active lifestyles, and quality of life becomes absolutely paramount. You just can’t do that with stationary oxygen.”