Industry descends on Capitol Hill

Sunday, February 15, 2009

WASHINGTON - The home medical equipment industry's hardscrabble lobbying efforts over the years seem to be paying off, say attendees of last week's AAHomecare fly-in.

Several of the 200 attendees who descended on Capitol Hill report that congressional staff members, for the most part, were well versed on issues like the 36-month oxygen cap and national competitive bidding.

"There's a recognition of these issues," said John Shirvinsky, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (PAMS), who was one of 18 attendees from the state. "There's also an inclination to undo the damage that has been done. Things are starting to make sense for them."

At the fly-in, attendees also discussed with staff members the impact of the 9.5% reimbursement cut on complex rehab and the industry's efforts to stem fraud and abuse.

The fly-in was a success, AAHomecare officials say, because the industry not only made headway with legislators but also came together.

"It has been difficult in the past few months, with the issues swirling around as they have," said Tyler Wilson, president and CEO of AAHomecare. "That we were able to develop for the fly-in some positions on each of the issues around which people could agree and were comfortable going to the Hill with--that was extremely positive."

The industry supplemented the fly-in with call-in campaigns. Members of the Jersey Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (JAMES), for example, called the offices of their representatives and senators using talking point sheets and other information provided by the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES).

"Some of our board members attended the fly-in, but many of our other members couldn't take time off from their businesses to physically go to Washington, D.C.," said Wendy Russalesi, executive director of JAMES. "But they said they'd be willing to make phone calls."

During their visits and calls, attendees asked representatives to sign a letter asking CMS to provide appropriate payments for home oxygen therapy throughout a beneficiary's period of medical need. Behind the letter: Reps. Tom Price, R-Ga.; Mike Ross, D-Ark.; Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo.; and Heath Shuler, D-N.C.