Healthcare reform: Time may be industry's only ally

Sunday, November 15, 2009

WASHINGTON - The home medical equipment provisions in the current House of Representatives and Senate healthcare reform bills are likely to stick, industry stakeholders say.

When asked whether the House and Senate will drop any HME provisions when they eventually "conference" their bills, AAHomecare's Walt Gorski said: "No, I think we have quite a fight on our hands."

The House passed its final bill Nov. 7. The Senate is expected to release its final bill, based on the Finance Committee and HELP Committee bills, this week.

Industry stakeholders are quick to point out, however, that healthcare reform is far from being a done deal. The Senate must debate and then vote on its final bill, something that's not likely to go smoothly, not with hot-button issues like a public option and abortion coverage.

Additionally, the Senate has two holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, breaking up its momentum.

"(Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) says they'll be done by Christmas, but no one in town believes that's possible," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare.

While it's unlikely that the HME provisions will be dropped, it's possible they'll change shape, hopefully, for the better, industry stakeholders say.

Take, for example, the provision to eliminate the first-month purchase option for standard power wheelchairs, which is included in both the House and Senate Finance Committee bills. Industry stakeholders are working with Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., to introduce an amendment on the Senate floor that would preserve the option, but, if beneficiaries don't use their wheelchairs for 13 months, would allow CMS to treat the purchases like rentals and collect money for months not used.

"We're continuing to do what we can to build additional support outside of Specter," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. "We've heard of other offices contacting his office to voice their support for the amendment."

The industry may be facing an uphill battle, but it must continue the fight, stakeholders said.

"We have to keep on message," Bachenheimer said. "We don't have a choice."