On the Hill

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Editor, HME News

In his office on Capitol Hill last month, Congressman Danny Davis, D-Ill., was persuaded by the arguments of several HME suppliers who’d asked him to support their quest to repeal the FEHBP cuts. “I can co-sponsor that,” he said, all but looking for an aide to make sure he signed on that dotted line.

Then the popular congressman rubbed his chin, grinned like a mischievous kid and told the Illinois suppliers he’d recently started using some medical equipment himself.

“In fact,” Davis said, “at the airport last week, one of the baggage screeners asked if my CPAP really worked.

“Yeah, I told him. Actually, it does.”

“Good, he said, because I’d hate for you cats to be carrying those things around if they didn’t.”

The good news for those Illinois suppliers was the support they got for HR 4491, the Hobson-Ford initiative to repeal the FEHPB cuts. Even better, politically speaking, is the fact that this Congressman, who is not yet old enough to be a Medicare beneficiary, already knows about this industry.

Likewise, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark. She told attendees at AAHomecare’s legislative conference that her father had used all kinds of home medical equipment before he passed away. The problem, she said, was figuring out who to turn to for quality equipment and services.

People don’t say this about pharmacy. Or physicians. Or even specialists. Most other healthcare providers are readily accessible. It is remarkable that Lincoln and her family couldn’t quite get a handle on providers of durable medical equipment, however. And it can’t be for lack of savvy. After all, this is someone resourceful enough to win a seat in the Senate.

That’s why it’s important to walk those marbled corridors of the Congressional buildings every year. Members of Congress don’t know and won’t know unless you impress yourself upon them. And even then, communication is a challenge.

While a number of providers spelled out the details of their two-point plan on Capitol Hill to one legislative aide (repeal the FEHBP cuts and ask CMS to revisit its reimbursement policy for nebulizer medications), I looked over the aide’s shoulder as she took some notes and then pretended to take notes while actually, she doodled geometric shapes into her notebook. Then she proposed a really harebrained idea: Why don’t you suppliers combine your COPD issues with a disease state that’s maybe a little better known, like asthma?

Well, for starters, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Doesn’t that merit its own attention? At least two senators - Lincoln and Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, who both spoke to AAHomecare - think so. They’ve recently launched a COPD Caucus to advocate for the disease state on the Hill.

I’m always somewhat astonished when I hear people in this industry talk about how well they could run their business if the government would just stay out of their way. But think about it: the government is your best customer. You don’t want them out of the way. But you do want them to know you. And to know, if they need it, where to get a CPAP.