Event puts HME in front of influential senator

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Friday, October 11, 2019

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A fundraising event for Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., netted nearly $17,000 for the senator’s campaign fund and gave HME providers a chance to re-engage with the longtime industry champion.

The industry is looking to Thune, a member of the influential Senate Finance Committee, to introduce a companion bill to H.R. 2771.

“He was attentive and listened to what everybody had to say,” said Rose Schafhauser, executive director of the Midwest Association of Medical Equipment Services, which organized the event. “The goal with the fundraiser was to have that one-on-one time with him.”

H.R. 2771, introduced in May by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Dave Loebsack, D. Iowa, would make permanent the 50-50 blended rates in rural areas and introduce 75-25 blended rates in non-rural, non-bid areas. It currently has 43 co-sponsors.

The Oct. 9 event, held in Sioux Falls, drew attendees from North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri, who shared stories with the senator about how competitive bidding has impacted providers and patient access, said Schafhauser.

“It really drove it home for Thune that these are not just South Dakota issues,” she said.

Provider Patrick Naeger, for example, travelled almost 680 miles from Missouri to share how his 50-year-old, family-owned company had to find a buyer earlier this year.

“We were at that breaking point,” said Naeger, regional manager for Perryville, Mo.-based Healthcare Equipment & Supply Co., now a division of Aerocare Holdings, and MAMES legislative chairman. “I’m the story of how this competitive bidding program has gone really south and has been destructive to the smallest providers and caused the demise of a lot of good family businesses.”

Thune is waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score draft language for a Senate bill but instructed stakeholders to be ready to move when it’s time, says John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for VGM.

“He agreed that we need to have a package ready to be put into any rural healthcare package that goes forward,” he said. “He committed to working with us and the Senate Finance Committee to make sure that’s prepared going forward.”

With the 50-50 blended rates set to expire at the end of next year, there’s no time to waste, says Schafhauser.

“We have to get something moving because we’re up against a time crunch,” she said. “It will devastate the industry. I think that’s our push, and to try and re-energize everybody."