Everything's in play as 2006 winds down

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

WASHINGTON - Before the buzzer sounds on the 109th Congress, the industry plans to play both offense and defense to protect the home oxygen therapy benefit.
In the weeks before, during and after the Nov. 7 elections, the industry plans a two-pronged attack: lobby for bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate that seek to repeal the 36-month cap on Medicare oxygen payments and kill any efforts to introduce a 13-month cap.
"Further cuts to the 36-month provision is a danger right through the end of the year, as Congress looks for ways to cut, especially for the physician fix," said Michael Reinemer, vice president of communications and policy for AAHomecare.
The industry is in a relatively good position. In mid-September, the Senate scrapped a plan to introduce a 13-month cap (See story page 13), and at press time, the oxygen bills had attracted 69 co-sponsors in the House and five co-sponsors in the Senate.
Not bad, industry sources said, considering the former was introduced in May and the latter in August.
But industry sources wouldn't be surprised if the 13-month cap sneaks back into negotiations during the lame duck session following the November elections, said John Gallagher, The VGM Group's vice president of government relations.
A recent OIG study that supports a 13-month cap and downplays the role of suppliers as service providers hasn't helped matters, sources said (See story this page). Some legislators were awaiting word from the OIG--"As a supposed impartial source, they're God on the Hill," Gallagher said--before deciding to support the bills.
"The best thing for our industry has been, with everything going on, the study didn't get much play with Congress," Gallagher said. "But it's something that's always going to raise its ugly head."
Associations, member groups and suppliers need to take the time to explain to their legislators "all the dimensions" of home oxygen therapy, including services, Reinemer said.
"When they do that, what begins as an unsympathetic position becomes a sympathetic one," he said.
Ideally, one of the oxygen bills will get attached to an spending bill that Congress must consider following the elections and get passed, industry sources said.