Healthcare reform: We're going to need to remain vigilant

Thursday, January 21, 2010

WASHINGTON – An upset Republican victory in a special U.S. Senate election last week has stalled health care reform, but that doesn't mean the HME industry is out of the woods, say stakeholders.

"The Democrats at this point are trying to find some way to move forward," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility. "The next course of action will likely be scaled back to attract a few key Republicans, but absent that, I don't see how Congress will pass health care reform this year."

Massachusetts residents elected Scott Brown with 52% of the vote. He'll now fill the seat that democrat Edward Kennedy held for 46 years. Kennedy died in August of brain cancer. Brown's win leaves Democrats one vote short of the 60 necessary to stop a Republican filibuster of Democrats' health care reform bills.

Current HME-related provisions in the health care reform bills include an acceleration of Round Two of national competitive bidding, elimination of the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs, and an excise tax on medical devices.

"Regardless of what happens we're going to need to remain vigilant throughout this year to make sure the threats discussed in the debate do not reappear in some other legislation later this year," said Johnson.

Health care reform was definitely on the minds of Massachusetts citizens last week, said provider Bill Fredericks, president and CEO of Millbury, Mass.-based Allcare Medical Supply. He said voters dont like the way Congress has handled health care reform so far.

"No matter what side of the fence you're on politically, we all want to see discussion out in the open and we want to see discussion between all parties," he said. "Health care needs reform, but not in the form that it has taken over the past year."

Meanwhile, stakeholders from all sectors of the industry will need to regroup, says Nancy Kramer, vice president of clinical affairs for The National Home Infusion Association (NHIA). The association has several pieces of pending legislation that "could go in multiple directions," she said.

"Last week's election changes the whole picture," she said. "Our hope is that by our (annual) conference in April, we will have clearer sense of what health care reform will look like and how it will move forward.