Lawmakers support oxygen reform

Sunday, June 14, 2009

WASHINGTON - More than 40 lawmakers signed a dear colleague letter last week that seeks support for reforming the Medicare home oxygen benefit.

The letter, sent by Reps. Mike Ross, D-Ark., and Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., asks that any healthcare reform legislation introduced this year include "a Medicare home oxygen therapy reform proposal that we will be introducing in the immediate future."

Ross and Meek are the expected sponsors of the HME industry's oxygen reform plan, which has been spearheaded by AAHomecare.

"Getting these signatures on the letter serves as a placeholder for our legislation," said Michael Reinemer, AAHomecare's vice president of communications and policy. "This reform package has been in the works for years and has the broadest buy-in."

AAHomecare wanted to have a bill introduced by now, but the Office of Legislative Counsel is swamped with writing health reform legislation from across a spectrum of stakeholders, Reinemer said.

When the bill is written and introduced, it will be one of two oxygen-related bills in the House of Representatives. H.R. 2373, known as the Home Oxygen Patient Protection (HOPP) Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C, and Tom Price, R-Ga., was introduced in May. It aims to repeal the 36-month oxygen cap.

The oxygen reform plan, its advocates argue, would repeal the cap, eliminate oxygen from national competitive bidding and reclassify suppliers as providers.

"The oxygen reform plan will serve the purpose of the HOPP bill and take it a step further," said provider Alyce Crossman, chief information officer for Upstate Home Care in Kirkland, N.Y. "It makes us stronger going forward."

Once the oxygen reform bill is written, it could stand on its own, get wrapped into a larger healthcare package or be introduced as an amendment, said Reinemer.

"How it gets folded into (healthcare reform) is less important then that it gets in front of the key decision makers," he said.