Obama taps Sebelius; holds homecare-less summit

Sunday, March 8, 2009

WASHINGTON - Industry stakeholders don't know much about Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, the nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. But they hope she's like another politician from that state: Sen. Pat Roberts.

Industry stakeholders plan to leverage the relationship between Sebelius, a Democrat, and Roberts, a Republican who has supported the industry's initiatives to delay national competitive bidding and repeal the 36-month oxygen cap.

"Even though they're in different parties, they've worked closely over the past few years," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. "So there's a lot of opportunity there to move the industry in the right direction."

President Barack Obama nominated Sebelius for the top healthcare position March 2. As governor, she has proposed financing healthcare initiatives by raising tobacco taxes and has called for universal health care for Kansas.

Sebelius has also worked in the state's House of Representatives and as its insurance commissioner.

"When she was insurance commissioner, she was always a good advocate for the consumer," said Sheila Roberson, Kansas chairwoman for the Midwest Association of Medical Equipment Services (MAMES) and office manager for Criticare Home Health Services in Lawrence, Kan.

Obama also nominated Nancy-Ann DeParle, former administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), now CMS, to lead the new White House Office for Health Reform. DeParle helped launch the agency's competitive bidding demonstration in Polk County, Florida.

"Everyone's making a big deal about that," said Joan Cross, who was president of the Florida Association of Medical Equipment Services at the time. "She thought it was a good program that saved the government money and helped to eliminate fraud and abuse."

But industry stakeholders point out that times have changed.

"(DeParle) thought there were changes that needed to be made to the industry back in the late '90s, but I'm confident that when we go in there and educate her on the significant changes that have taken place since she left HCFA, she will hear us out," Johnson said.

Obama holds homecare-less summit

WASHINGTON - It doesn't look like any homecare organizations were invited to participate in President Barack Obama's healthcare summit last week. More than 150 lawmakers, health industry executives and "average Americans" were invited, but not AAHomecare, not the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. Yet, one of the goals of the summit was to determine how to lower costs. It's some consolation, industry sources say, that homecare advocates, such as Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., were present. "He said that he would carry our message," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. "He said that if any medical equipment issues were brought up, he would convey our perspective."

Lawmakers call for reform by summer

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers have called for a healthcare reform bill before the end of summer. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would like to see bills on their respective floors before Congress' August recess, several beltway publications reported last week. Baucus has told lawmakers that the bill needs to be "fully offset." That means he and other lawmakers will be looking for pay-fors, or ways to fund what will surely be an expensive healthcare overhaul. "I'll be taking the temperature of senators to see which measures are either the path of least resistance or which measures are more popular," Baucus told Congress Daily.

Committee members discuss home care's role

WASHINGTON - A Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing last week about options for long-term care in the home and community, and how they may tie into broader healthcare reform. "Our message is simple," stated Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., committee chairman. "Any serious healthcare reform proposal must address long-term care." A panel of government and healthcare officials from around the country testified at the hearing. One of those healthcare officials, Karen Timberlake, secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Health Services, stated: "The future of long-term care is not about the nursing home of the future. It's about the community of the future, where people who are very old or very disabled can live as much as possible like other people, with the best possible health and mobility."