Oxygen reform: Can industry mend itself?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

WASHINGTON - Industry stakeholders are trying to put aside their differences and come to an agreement on what shape oxygen reform should take.

Last week, at the invitation of AAHomecare, the New Oxygen Coalition (NOC) held two teleconferences to discuss issues that have divided the industry at a time when it needs to put on a united front.

"All the groups agreed that it makes sense to keep talking," said Walt Gorski, AAHomecare's vice president of government relations. "At the end of the day, we are fighting for what's right for suppliers and patients. Fighting ourselves accomplishes nothing."

In recent weeks, industry groups like the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES) and the Committee to Save Independent Suppliers (CSIHME) have come out publicly against H.R. 3220, AAHomecare's plan to reform the oxygen benefit.

The plan was dealt a further, public blow, when the two groups and several consumer and clinical groups, including the American Lung Association and the National Home Oxygen Patients Association, sent a letter to Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., the bill's sponsor, criticizing the legislation as "fundamentally flawed."

NOC member Wayne Stanfield, executive director of NAIMES, was unavailable for comment last week, but said, in a news release:

"NAIMES supports this effort by AAHomecare to resolve differences and we look forward to working with the AAHomecare staff and Board to insure that the best interests and greater good of the DME supplier community are met."

While Gorski couldn't comment on the specifics of what was discussed during last week's call, two provisions in the bill have proved particularly contentious: one to remove oxygen from national competitive bidding and another to reclassify suppliers as providers.

"We are making progress on the key sticking point issues," said Gorski.

In addition to the previous NOC members, several new representatives had a seat at the table during last week's calls, including David Petsch, managing director of CSIHME.

"We're not taking votes," said Gorski. "We just will continue to talk and try and work through and resolve the issues, and very quickly."

The House of Representatives is on break until Sept. 8 but is expected to consider dozens of amendments to its health care reform package--including H.R. 3220, when it reconvenes.