Gallagher’s politicking adds punch to VGM’s lobbying

Friday, January 31, 2003

The Van Miller Group would have been hard pressed to find a more natural candidate than John Gallagher for the newly created position of government affairs director.

He is a native of Waterloo, Iowa - VGM’s home turf.

He grew up in a political environment.

He knows health care and worked as a VGM vendor.

He has lobbied against competitive bidding in another industry.

Essentially, he has the background, skills and experience to hit the ground running in a position that is complex and demanding. And in just six months, Gallagher has budged VGM into the national advocacy spotlight.

Although the position was originally created to serve members’ interests, Gallagher has raised his office’s visibility well above a parochial level. His twice-a-month trips to Washington have raised VGM’s industry voice, sounding off against competitive bidding and Medicaid cuts and helping Florida, Texas and North Carolina organize grassroots lobbying efforts.

“We’re working with AAHomecare, MED Group and others - the industry has never been closer,” Gallagher said.

Political involvement is second nature to the son of James B. Gallagher, who served as an Iowa state senator and representative during a 30-year legislative career.

“I attended more chili cookoffs than I care to remember,” he joked.

Yet Gallagher nurtured an interest in following his father’s path - an attribute not shared by his five brothers. And though he hasn’t run for elective office, Gallagher has firsthand public service experience from eight years in the U.S. Army, where he served as a communications officer and attained the rank of captain.

After leaving the military, he joined Osbon Medical, an Augusta, Ga.-based urological supplies manufacturer, as a regional sales manager. His Midwestern territory included northeastern Iowa, and Miller Medical was one of his clients. When Van Miller formed VGM, “we were a part of it,” Gallagher said.

Even after he left the healthcare business, Gallagher was involved in activities that would prepare him for his future with VGM. As director of sales for Rhodes Financial Services, he lobbied to dissuade the IRS from instituting a competitive bidding proposal for electronic filing software - a system similar to what HME providers are facing with Medicare.

“We met with the IRS monthly, we told them how it would create a monopoly and that it would eliminate small businesses,” Gallagher said. “They pulled back that directive and are not currently bidding for vendors. I believe the same thing could happen in the HME industry.”

Meanwhile, VGM decided to establish a dedicated government relations position after years of contemplation, said President Jim Walsh.

“Given the attack on the industry related to national competitive bidding, we had to stop thinking about it and get going,” he said. “When it came time to fill the position, John was the first person suggested.”

Gallagher’s addition in July signified a new commitment to external industry involvement, which Walsh says is very much a team venture.

“With John on board we now have an organizer for our efforts and a focal point for member communications,” he said. “But he will not be working alone in this. There are about a dozen of us here at VGM who are very active in government affairs and will continue to be.”

As government liaison for VGM, Gallagher has put his political and lobbying experience to full use. In December, he invited Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), an old family acquaintance, to the VGM office for a meeting on competitive bidding.

“I’ve known Sen. Grassley for years - he served with my dad in the house, and they came up together,” Gallagher said. “He came in on Christmas Eve and sat down with us for about 90 minutes.”

VGM is also raising awareness among beneficiary groups, such as local AARP chapters and branches of the National Council on Aging.

“We explained how competitive bidding limits the choices for beneficiaries,” he said. “Although the national chapter of AARP won’t work with us, the local chapters are more independent.”

Despite not running for elective office, Gallagher says it’s an option he’s keeping open down the road. At age 41, he says there is still plenty of time to decide.

“I’ve known since high school that I wanted to get into politics, and I figured I’d be between 45 and 48 when I ran,” he said. “Most likely it would be a state house or senate race.” HME