Further cuts: 'We're not out of the woods'

Sunday, May 10, 2009

WASHINGTON - The industry dodged a bullet last week, when President Barack Obama unveiled $17 billion in budget cuts, none for home medical equipment, sources say.

Leading up to the $3.6 trillion budget's release, the industry had received "mixed signals" about whether it would include provisions to further reduce the oxygen cap to 13 months and other cuts to HME, sources said.

"We're always worried we're going to be a target," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "It's good news, but it doesn't mean we're out of the woods."

Obama's budget allots $879 billion for health and human services spending, a 7.7% increase. Of that, $758.9 billion goes to Medicare and Medicaid. That's 8% more than last year, but a smaller increase in spending than previous years.

Previous budgets, under former president George W. Bush, proposed further reducing the oxygen cap and eliminating the first month purchase option for power wheelchairs.

Even though Obama's budget doesn't include cuts to HME, the House of Representatives and the Senate will develop their own budgets, not to mention healthcare reform and Medicare bills, sources said.

"I'm continuing to hear in meetings with key committee members in Congress that all the unused pay-fors from last year remain on the table," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products.

In the months to come, the industry aims to move provisions like further reducing the oxygen cap off the table by pointing out their impact on small businesses and jobs, sources said.

"The president has said on a number of occasions that he is prepared to do whatever it takes to preserve and protect small businesses and create jobs," Johnson said. "These provisions are counter to these goals."