Legislative Conference: It's no time to 'pull back'

Thursday, February 3, 2011

WASHINGTON - If you think just because the HME industry doesn't have a specific bill to promote at this year's AAHomecare Washington Legislative Conference that it's not worth going, you're dead wrong, association officials say.

It's true that, while AAHomecare has two task forces working on how to deal with competitive bidding, it probably won't have a clear strategy, much less a draft of a bill, ready in time for the conference. Still, the industry "has an important story to tell," says Randy Wolfe, a director at large on AAHomecare's board and the owner of Lambert's Health Care in Knoxville, Tenn.

"We continue to track the outcomes of the rollout of competitive bidding and we need to put a face on the layoffs and the plans to shut down," he said. "During the first failed round of competitive bidding, I went to D.C. with just stories and examples, and it was one of the most productive trips I have ever made."

The Legislative Conference takes place March 16-17 at the Westin Washington, D.C. In addition to visits to Capitol Hill, attendees will hear presentations by, among others, Reps. Tom Price, R-Ga., and Jason Altmire, D-Pa.

Those stories of competitive bidding's failures will be especially important for the more than 100 new members of Congress, said Michael Reinemer, the vice president of communications and policy at AAHomecare.

"We need to introduce ourselves and tell them about not only the problems with the bidding program, but also all of the regulatory burdens providers are facing, like documentation and audit issues," he said. "We have plenty to say and plenty of points to make."

Still, competitive bidding will dominate conversations. One task force is working on a plan to repeal the program and replace it with some other cost-saving measure; and the other is working on a plan to redesign the existing program to make it more fair. Members plan to report back to AAHomecare on their progress in March.

"The task forces are delving into the details of what to do, but the global message to lawmakers hasn't changed: This program is fundamentally flawed and they need to step in," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare and a member of one of the task forces.

AAHomecare and others are trying to make it as easy as possible to attend the conference. The association has reduced the registration rate to $245 for members and $355 for non-members, and state associations like the Tennessee Association for Home Care are trying to organize low-cost options like bus rides to D.C. for $1 per seat.

"We understand that some folks are worried about the future, but that's all the more reason not to pull back this year," Wolfe said. "This is a time when everyone in Congress is trying to get their arms around that's going on and we have to get them on board."