Democrats romp Republicans in election

Sunday, November 9, 2008

WASHINGTON - The new Democrat-charged political landscape presents the home medical equipment industry with both opportunities and challenges, according to stakeholders.

Based on president-elect Barack Obama's statements about improving health care and his receptiveness to concerns about national competitive bidding, a Democratic administration will serve the industry well, stakeholders said. But having the party also in control of the House of Representatives and Senate may make it more difficult for the industry to block potentially harmful legislation, they said.

"We saw it in 2004, with Republicans in control of the White House, Senate and House," said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for the VGM Group. "Absolute power corrupts."

Obama defeated Republican Sen. John McCain, 364 electoral votes to 162 votes (At press time, 12 votes were still undecided). In the House, Democrats picked up at least 20 seats, and in the Senate, they picked up six (At press time, several seats were still undecided).

While on the campaign trail, Obama has spoken of expanding coverage for the uninsured, improving the prevention and management of chronic diseases, and investing in electronic records, stakeholders said.

"Clearly, these initiatives would be positive for providers," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. "Improving the prevention and management of chronic diseases, for example, gives us a great opportunity to highlight DME as a way to do that cost effectively."

When it comes to competitive bidding, stakeholders look forward to working with a president--not to mention a new Department of Health and Human Services secretary and a new CMS administrator--who isn't wedded to the program.

"Earlier this year, before Obama's office knew anything about the bidding program, they were supporting it," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "But as they got educated and as they started hearing from their constituents, they turned around 180 degrees."

Even with Democrats in control, there's no guarantee party members are going to agree on all the issues. Additionally, Democrats don't have the 60 seats they need in the Senate to prevent Republicans from using the filibuster to deny or block legislation.

"That's our saving grace," Gallagher said. "A divided government is our friend."

To ensure it gets the most out of a new administration and a reworked Congress, the industry will stand in line with other groups to educate Obama and his staff, as well as new representatives and senators, about its concerns. High on that list: reimbursement for oxygen and power wheelchairs, and fraud and abuse.

"We see this as an opportunity to change the direction of the debate on key homecare issues," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. "We believe our message will be more well-received."

Election results of interest: Provider Monty Lankford lost his bid to represent Tennessee's 4th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He earned 37.8% of votes to Lincoln Davis' 58.8%. Industry allies Reps. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., and Tom Price, R-Ga., and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., all won reelection.