Fight with Congress continues

Friday, November 30, 2007

WASHINGTON - With Congress still hot on its tail, the rehab industry must continue to plead with legislators to protect the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs, say industry sources.
The House of Representatives came this close to including a provision to eliminate the option in its bill to expand children's health insurance in late September. It's a "fluid" situation, but legislators may include the provision in upcoming Medicare legislation.
"There's a high probability that will happen," said Mark Leita, director of public affairs for The Scooter Store.
But the industry may have an ally in the Senate, which never included the provision in its bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
"I can't underscore how important it is to reach out to senators," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products, recently. "If the provision ends up in both the House and the Senate Medicare packages, it will be almost impossible to take out."
The industry expected Congress to propose and vote on Medicare cuts before Thanksgiving as a way to avoid cutting physician reimbursement by 10% on Jan. 1. Eliminating the first-month purchase option would allegedly save $600 million over five years.
That projected savings has been a point of discussion during the industry's ongoing visits with legislators. The industry argues that making power wheelchairs a capped-rental item wouldn't save as much money as legislators think, because the majority of beneficiaries use their wheelchairs for longer than 13 months.
The Scooter Store, for example, analyzed data recently and found that only 5% of the 296,000 customers it has served have passed away within 13 months, Leita said.
If Congress decides to include a provision to eliminate the first-month purchase option in Medicare legislation, AAHomecare's Rehab and Assistive Technology Council (RATC) still has a plan.
"It's all very fluid, but if the provision is included, we do have several options we can pursue," said Tim Pederson, chairman of RATC and CEO of WestMed Rehab in Rapid City, S.D.
Pederson declined to detail the plan.