Momentum: Use it or lose it

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

When President Bush signed off on a deficit reduction bill in February that, among other things, capped Medicare oxygen reimbursement at 36 months, the HME industry suffered yet another blow to its livelihood. Fortunately, because only 10% to 20% of Medicare beneficiaries stay on oxygen longer than 36 months, the financial blow to providers is not huge. The bigger issue here is patient safety, and that's an issue that lawmakers who pushed this policy through ignored. What do beneficiaries know about servicing and maintaining equipment? For the most part, nothing. Yet this legislation requires them to do that following the 36-month cap.
When the industry began its last-ditch lobbying effort against the cap in January, large numbers of beneficiaries joined in. Beneficiaries don't want to service and maintain their oxygen equipment. They want a qualified home medical equipment provider to do that. Beneficiaries were loud and clear about this and lawmakers took notice--as they often do when faced with hordes of angry constituents who just might prevent them from being re-elected.
Not only did lawmakers listen, some lost their cool. They started yelling at providers, accusing them of lying to beneficiaries, of worrying them unnecessarily. There's nothing to worry about, they said. We've got three years to develop a safe service and maintenance program that kicks in after the 36-month cap. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. What I would do is continue to rally beneficiaries to write letters to their congressman opposing the cap. With enough pressure, lawmakers might craft legislation to rescind the oxygen cap. (Stranger things have happened.) It's also critical to keep up the beneficiary pressure because President Bush's FY 2007 budget proposes capping oxygen reimbursement at 13 months. When it comes to working with beneficiaries on this issue, the industry has momentum. But you know what they say about momentum: Use it or lose it.