Legislators support bill to roll back oxygen cap

Friday, June 30, 2006

WASHINGTON - With the Home Oxygen Patient Protection Act, introduced May 26, a handful of legislators delivered on their promises to work with the industry to repeal the 36-month cap on Medicare oxygen reimbursement.
Before the cap was passed earlier this year as part of the Deficit Reduction Act, legislators told the industry that they were sympathetic to concerns that the provision would compromise patient safety and compliance. But because the cap was only one of many provisions included in the bill--some of them good--legislators felt they needed to support the bill, anyway.
U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, R-Mich., the lead sponsor of the Home Oxygen Patient Protection Act, was one of those legislators.
"I talked with him the day after the DRA was passed, and he said, 'Let me take a look at the issue on oxygen and see if there's a potential legislative remedy,'" said William Deary, CEO of Great Lakes Home Medical Equipment in Jackson, Mich. "About a month later, he came back with a draft bill."
In addition to repealing the 36-month cap, the bill--H.R. 5513--would restore ownership of oxygen equipment to providers. Currently, per the DRA, providers are required to transfer title of the equipment to beneficiaries after three years.
Now that Schwarz has introduced the bill in the House of Representatives, the industry must collect co-sponsors. It already has five: Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and four representatives from Ohio (Ralph Regula, Patrick Tiberi, David Hobson and Tim Ryan).
If the industry manages to gain enough traction, the bill could kill two birds with one stone, said Cara Bachenheimer, vice president of government relations for Invacare.
"It's great news from a couple of perspectives--offensively and defensively," she said. "On the offensive, the industry needs to make sure the oxygen cap is rolled back. On the defensive, the industry can significantly increase its chances of staving off further reductions to oxygen reimbursement."
In the FY 2007 budget he released earlier this year, President Bush proposed capping Medicare oxygen reimbursement at 13 months. The proposal is a "very clear and present danger" as 2006 comes to a close and Congress looks for ways to boost the physician payment system, Bachenheimer said.
AAHomecare planned to collect co-sponsors for the bill at its legislative fly-in June 19-20.
"We didn't have a concrete hook until now," said Michael Reinemer, AAHomecare's director of communications. "We didn't have the very crisp 'ask' that a bill has."
The industry plans, in its grassroots efforts, to make repeated mention of the fact that both Schwarz and Price are physicians.