HME supporter Specter turns democrat, gains influence

Sunday, May 3, 2009

WASHINGTON - Some key political moves took place in Washington last week that could pay dividends for the HME industry in its efforts to turn back national competitive bidding,

On Tuesday, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. announced he would switch from the Republican to the Democratic party. Specter has often voted with the Democrats and is expected to maintain his moderate stance.

"He has been a friend to homecare and we look forward to continuing that relationship with the Senator," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government relations for AAHomecare. "He has made perfectly clear that health care reform is a critical issue for him, and he will be an integral player in the development of any health care reform package."

Specter will give the keynote address at AAHomecare's Washington Legislative Conference in June.

While a member of the GOP, Specter proved himself a champion of the HME industry. In March, he sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, asking Acting Secretary Charles Johnson to rescind the competitive bidding rule.

Switching his affiliation to the majority party won't hurt, said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility, which is headquartered in Exeter, Pa.

"This could be a very positive development," he said. "He is a senior member on the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, which funds HHS's budget. We have been able to use him in the past to apply pressure on HHS. This is an opportunity for him to strengthen his position and for the industry to utilize that."

Also on Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was confirmed as secretary for HHS. Although her first priority is dealing with the recent swine flu crisis, she has made clear her commitment to health care reform, said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group.

"She and the White House are still going to want to focus on health care reform," he said." If they don't get it done early, it won't happen."

In her confirmation hearings before the Senate Finance Committee in April, Sebelius indicated she planned a review of NCB.

First, however, she will have to name a new CMS director, say stakeholders.

"Right now there's no clear frontrunner out there," said Johnson. "I think it will be mid-May before we see a candidate nominated. CMS will move forward with rulemaking, but I think they would hold off on most things that require administrative approval until they have an administrator."