Industry holds its breath as Congress winds down

Sunday, December 10, 2006

WASHINGTON - In the waning hours of the 109th Congress last week, HME industry leaders were pulling out all the stops in an effort to ward off potential reimbursement cuts.

By Friday afternoon, it looked like home oxygen providers would dodge a cut in the equipment rental period from 36 months to 13 months. That cut was being considered as a way to avoid a scheduled 5% Medicare cut in physician pay. Instead, a proposed tax package included a move to block the cut to physician reimbursement, at a cost of $10 billion or more per year.

"We are still at risk, although we keep getting lower," said Tom Ryan, chairman of AAHomecare.

Lawmakers were expected to vote on the legislation yesterday and then adjourn for the rest of 2006.

Walt Gorski, AAHomecare's new vice president of government relations, said that even if home oxygen cuts escape this year's Medicare package, the issue won't disappear.

"Once these issues get put on the table, it's hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube," said Gorski. "It's like a crystal ball as to what the health care policy debate is going to look like next year."

Ryan said that when the new Congress convenes in January, the industry would have its work cut out.

"We need to continue to work on getting this removed," said Ryan. "That number is nuclear for this industry.