Lobbying: Bill Cheek takes 'that extra step'

Monday, February 1, 2010

MONROE, Ga. - Provider Bill Cheek has been working in the HME industry for 16 years, but he'll be visiting Capitol Hill for the first time next month. What's driving him there: H.R. 3790, a bill that would eliminate national competitive bidding. Cheek, COO of Carmichael's Home Medical Equipment, will visit Washington, D.C., as part of AAHomecare's Legislative Conference March 1-3 to try and boost the number of co-sponsors for H.R. 3790. Here's what he had to say about why competitive bidding is a threat and why he does what he does.

HME News: Competitive bidding has been around for a while. Why are you visiting Capitol Hill now?

Bill Cheek: After Congress delayed the program in 2008, I never thought it would come back. Then last year, when it did, I made a lot of phone calls and sent a lot of e-mails—I thought I could do it that way. But now I feel like I need to take that extra step.

HME: What's your strategy for your meetings with legislators?

Cheek: The biggest point I want to make is the need for Medicare patients to have access to the care they expect and deserve. There are so many small providers like us that serve a large number of patients--we probably have 8,000 to 9,000--that won't survive competitive bidding. In Monroe, we're the only option; Athens, the closest city, is 45 minutes away.

HME: You mentioned not being able to survive competitive bidding. Will you also share with legislators the impact you expect the program to have on your company and others like it?

Cheek: Yes. We have 10 employees and our chances of surviving the program are slim to none. We shouldn't be looking to put companies out of business right now, with the unemployment rate the way it is. I've heard upward of 90% of small HME companies could go out of business. This program would kill jobs.

HME: If the industry is unable to derail competitive bidding--what then?

Cheek: We're not in Round 1; we're in Round 2. I can't buy stuff like the larger companies do, so competitively speaking, my bid can't be as low as their bids. My plan is to bid at a reasonable rate so I can stay open and make payroll. That's the best we can do.

HME: How's the morale among HME providers?

Cheek: I have a lot of friends who are considering going back to nursing, because they know they'll always have a job. The thing is, most of us got into this industry to help people. I love what I do. We really do help a lot of people—that's encouraging. I just hope we can continue doing it.