HME ‘at stake’ in 2008, sources say

Sunday, January 20, 2008

WASHINGTON – With the House of Representatives and the Senate now both back in session, the industry expects legislators to pick up where they left off in 2007, eyeing cuts to home medical equipment.

Senior staff members from two congressional committees recently confirmed to AAHomecare that home oxygen therapy and other HME “are at the top of the list for Medicare reimbursement cuts this year.” The industry also expects President George Bush to target home medical equipment on Feb. 4, when he unveils his 2008 budget. Like in last year’s budget, the industry expects Bush to include provisions to reduce the cap on Medicare reimbursement for oxygen to 13 months and eliminate the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs.

“We’re going to be in the same battle,” said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. “It’s going to be important for providers across the country to continue educating members of Congress on the value of the services they provide. Things are at stake.”

While the Democratic leadership will likely declare Bush’s budget “dead on arrival,” the industry has its work cut out for it in the House, sources say. A senior staff member confirmed to AAHomecare that the House’s Ways and Means Committee prefers to reduce reimbursement for oxygen rather than shorten the cap to 18 or 13 months.

Time may play in the industry’s favor, industry sources say. Legislators are eyeing HME cuts as a way to help stave off a 10% cut to physician reimbursement scheduled for July 1 (It was originally scheduled for Jan. 1).

“There’s a huge question mark as two whether Congress can act that quickly,” Bachenheimer said. “They could extend it for nine months, which would be the politically expedient thing for them to do, because it doesn’t cost a huge amount of money to do, and it pushes the issue to the next Congress and a new administration.”

It’s also an election year, when “there are a lot of politics at play” and “the status quo tends to do quite well,” said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility.

“If they couldn’t reach an agreement on broad Medicare reform last year, it’s going to be even more difficult this year with election politics as hot and heavy as they’re going to be,” he said. “Typically, what happens in a big election year is that the Republicans dig in their heels on one side and the Democrats dig in on the other side, and they agree to disagree. They end up campaigning on their differences and let the constituents decide what’s in the best interest of the country in November.”