HME nemesis Bill Thomas announces his retirement
WASHINGTON - The industry breathed a collective sigh of relief last month when Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., the man behind the recent 36-month cap on Medicare oxygen payments and other HME cuts, announced he would not run for re-election in November. Thomas' decision to enter the private sector and step down from his post as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, however, does not mean that the industry can let down its guard.
"You've got a budget deficit and the reality is that they are going to continue to look at how they can slow down the growth of entitlement programs," said Tom Ryan, chairman of AAHomecare.
With eight months before the November elections, Thomas has plenty of time to push more HME reimbursement cuts. Additionally, while there seems to be little support among lawmakers in Washington to cap oxygen reimbursement at 13 months, as President Bush has proposed, there's no guarantee that won't happen.
"We know that these things can be added," said Mike Reinemer, AAHomecare's director of communications. "We're counseling people not to take anything for granted. Who knows what kind of a swan song Thomas may have planned."
In addition to the recent oxygen cap, industry watchers believe Thomas had a hand in the proposed 13-month cap. He also pushed for the reimbursement cuts included in the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, including national competitive bidding.