Lymphedema legislation to land on Hill

Monday, February 28, 2005

LAS VEGAS - Cyndi Ortiz, owner of Nevada Vascular and Lymphatic Specialty Company, is a shining example of what the HME industry stands to gain from its grassroots efforts. After nearly three years of phone calls and letters, she has secured sponsorship in Congress for her patient’s rights legislation.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., and Rep. Shelly Berkley, D-Nev., have both agreed to co-sponsor Ortiz’s bill, which seeks to mandate coverage of disease management treatments for vascular disease and lymphedema.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., will introduce the legislation in the Senate, and Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is still looking over the information and also considering sponsorship, said Ortiz.

Ortiz said she expects to see her bill debated on the floor in 2006.

“They told me realistically this is not going to be one of those things that can just slam through,” she said. “They want to make sure and get this right so we don’t make the situation worse or just get some token legislation through. We really want to take the time to get this passed so it really helps people, and that’s their words, which is great. So, I am willing to wait until 2006.”

Ortiz began pushing for a patient’s rights bill after years of Medicare and other insurers denying treatments that could keep her patients out of the hospital. Current Medicare policy covers only lymphedema pumps, but Ortiz wants to be able to do more to prevent the plethora of complications that accompany the disorders, including chronic wounds, cellulitis, immobility and amputation.

“You either have to treat the disease or treat the complications,” she said.

The purpose of the bill is to ensure coverage by Medicare and other insurers of early intervention, treatment and management of lymphatic and vascular diseases, including compression therapy, footcare, wound care and maintenance, among others.

“Republicans are reluctant to mandate private business, and I agree with that to some extent, but when you have insurance companies that are ripping off Americans, then it is time to do something about it,” said Ortiz.

Along with campaigning for her bill, Ortiz also founded a political action committee (PAC) called the Coalition for Quality Healthcare to serve as a voice for patients with lymphedema and vascular disease.

Ortiz and the PAC are now working on finding more sponsors for the bill. Rep. Berkley’s office is sending out a letter that they hope will generate 50 more representatives to step forward. Berkley was also a co-sponsor of the Women’s Cancer Rights Act, which ensured coverage of lymphedema pumps for women who had undergone mastectomies.

“Our biggest challenge now is competing against other issues,” said Ortiz. “I have gotten their attention and they realize there is a problem with the current system, but they also have 200 other things on their desk that are equally important. So that’s the biggest challenge ahead - getting ours to the top of the table.”