November elections: 'You've got their attention'

Monday, July 31, 2006

As America rumbles toward the November elections, leaders in the HME industry are stumping as hard as the candidates, rallying against a seemingly endless stream of reimbursement cuts.
Energizing providers is a high priority for John Gallagher, VGM's vice president of government relations and Last Chance for Patient Choice.
"During an election year, that's when you've got their attention," said Gallagher. "Get that meeting, get that meeting. It doesn't take much."
Mounting bills from President Bush's war on terror and record losses from Hurricane Katrina exacerbate the federal budget deficit. Lawmakers under pressure to control costs see Medicare as an easy target, say industry insiders. It's up to providers to change that mindset.
"Home care is not the problem, it's one of the most cost-effective solutions," said Mike Reinemer, AAHomecare's vice president of communications and policy. "There's a lot of bad information circulating that we have to correct, and the more that can happen at the grassroots level, the better."
Competitive bidding, the 36-month cap on oxygen and the 13-month capped rental on DME should give providers plenty to discuss with the pols. However, it should be an ongoing discussion, not a one-shot deal, said Kam Yuricich, executive director of the Ohio Association of Medical Equipment Services (OAMES).
"OAMES tries always to be involved with legislators on a continual basis," said Yuricich. "We're encouraging members to develop the relationship, not just calling on them when you need something."
While it's been a rough 18 months for HME providers, beneficiaries, have proven valuable allies.
"The oxygen cuts galvanized people more than anything in the industry," said Gallagher. "Members of Congress are running scared, particularly Republicans who were told that the Medicare Modernization Act was going to be a big victory for them."
In the November 2004 HME News Poll, 51% of respondents believed Republicans were better for the HME industry. Gallagher said he's never believed one party was better than the other but a divided House is a good thing from an industry standpoint.
"With Democrats and Republicans divided, that tends not to get anything done," said Gallagher. "So, they have to come to a consensus with each other if they're going to have healthcare reform. They've got to come to the middle of the road."