Industry hits airwaves to fight O2 cap

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

YARMOUTH, Maine - Brian Williams from NBC Nightly News never called, but providers lobbying against the just approved cap on oxygen caught the attention of local media outlets in January.
WAVY-10, a TV station in Portsmouth, Va., aired a news story Jan. 12 that featured provider Tom Inman and one of his customers, Betty Hotchkin, who has been using oxygen for five years.
In the story, Inman and Hotchkin described their concerns about how Medicare beneficiaries will be able to afford oxygen therapy after 36 months. Under the proposal, which Congress passed Feb. 1, Medicare will cap reimbursement and transfer title of the equipment to them at that time.
The station ran the story as part of a "10 on Your Side" series, which it promotes on its Web site with, "Ripped off? Swindled? WAVY is on your side! We'll fight for your rights."
"Typically, when '10 on Your Side' calls you, you've done something wrong," said Inman, president of Virginia Home Medical in Newport News, Va. "In this particular case, the industry was portrayed in a positive light, and the story focused on the beneficiary, which is the point of (the grassroots efforts)."
Buoyed by AAHomecare, state associations and member groups, providers used the time before the Feb. 1 vote to lobby representatives, often arm-in-arm with beneficiaries. Their message to representatives: Don't approve the bill the second time around.
A radio talk show in Mount Vernon, Ohio, on Jan. 17 interviewed provider Ary Van Harlingen about the oxygen cap. At the close of the show, host Tom Cooper, a lawyer and "advocate for the older generation," encouraged listeners to call their representatives.
"(Cooper) said this bill--not just the oxygen cap but the whole thing--is the worst thing that could happen to Medicare beneficiaries," said Van Harlingen, president of Shaw & Ott Medical Supplies in Mansfield, Ohio.
Since the WAVY-10 news segment ran, Inman has received anywhere from six to 12 calls a day from upset customers who want to know more about the proposal. Many of them said their next call would be to their representatives' offices.
Beth Bowen, executive director of the Virginia and North Carolina HME associations, said the proposal to cap oxygen has mobilized providers--and probably more importantly, beneficiaries--like never before, resulting in increased attention from all directions.
"Maybe Bill Thomas thought he could put the final screw to us, but I think it's going to backfire," she said. "The bill will probably go through, but with all this flak, the industry has more energy to change it after the fact."