HME remains reform target

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

WASHINGTON--The call for change was a key component of the recent elections, but parts of a universal healthcare plan issued in mid-November sounded like the same old song to industry stakeholders.

In his “Call to Action,” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., advocates shifting “the focus from institutional care to services provided in the home and community” as a way to control costs and improve quality of care. But in the next breath, he hails national competitive bidding as a means to save money and reduce fraud and abuse.

“I think this shows that we need to continue to work with members of Congress to show them the value of home care,” said Walt Gorski, AAHomecare’s vice president of government relations.

Baucus’ plan calls for creating a nationwide insurance pool; developing a Medicare buy-in plan; ensuring coverage of preventive care; and expanding Medicaid.

Additionally, the plan calls for stepping up efforts to reduce fraud and abuse, as well as wasteful spending. As an example, he pointed to the cost of an oxygen concentrator ($600) compared to what he called “excessive (rental) fees” ($7,215 in 2006).

“They keep going back to the concentrator,” said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for the VGM Group. “We’ve got to begin the discussion where everything we do is ‘service, service, service,’ not ‘product, product, product.’”

It’s not too soon to start lobbying lawmakers, but don’t expect healthcare reform to happen right away, says Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. With other lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., expected to put forth their own proposals, there’s a lot of “jockeying around” at this point, she says.

“Health care is a major agenda item, but the discussion is going to take place over the course of 2009,” she said.