Industry torn over oxygen strategy

Sunday, June 7, 2009

WASHINGTON - North Carolina providers caught Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., between votes Wednesday and thanked him for introducing a bill to eliminate the 36-month cap on oxygen reimbursement (H.R. 2373). It has become clear, however, that the industry harbors mixed support for the bill.

Beth Bowen, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (NCAMES), told Shuler: "We've been working on getting you some more signatures. It may end up being part of something bigger."

Also known as the Home Oxygen Patient Protection (HOPP) Act, the bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., has 25 supporters in the House of Representatives.

At the same time, AAHomecare and other industry stakeholders have been hard at work crafting a bill that would overhaul the entire oxygen benefit. The association supports H.R. 2373, but it thinks a broader reform plan would accomplish the same goals.

As providers at the association's legislative conference last week prepared to visit with more than 300 lawmakers and staffers, stakeholders urged attendees to focus their lobbying efforts on the reform plan.

"I think we have to put all of our eggs behind one effort," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government relations for AAHomecare. "There are only so many things we can do at one time. We're appreciative of Price and Shuler and providers in Georgia and North Carolina, but I think we have to present a unified message of reform."

Providers in Georgia and North Carolina--many of who worked closely with Price and Shuler to get the bill introduced--expressed surprise and dismay.

"How can they ask us to have our congressmen introduce this and not support it?" said Teresa Tatum, executive director of the Georgia Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (GAMES). "The HOPP act is live, it's real and it's here. The oxygen reform plan is not."

While providers understand the importance of a unified front, many support both plans.

"The reform plan is the smartest, most proactive thing our industry has done in a long time--it's a game changer," said Joel Mills, CEO of High Point, N.C.-based Advanced Home Care. "But, I am also supportive of the HOPP Act."