Oxygen reform: The 'gloves come off'

Sunday, August 2, 2009

WASHINGTON - The industry's split over what shape oxygen reform should take could get rough.

"You are likely to see the gloves come off with this fight," said Wayne Stanfield, president and CEO of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES).

NAIMES and CSIHME, a new advocacy group for independent providers, oppose AAHomecare's H.R. 3220, the Medicare Home Oxygen Therapy Act of 2009.

They two groups and a handful of consumer and clinical organizations sent a letter recently to Rep Mike Ross, D-Ark., the sponsor of H.R. 3220. The three-page letter stated that, "this legislation is fundamentally flawed--especially regarding adequate protection of patients and for clinical care."

NAIMES and CSIHME also claim that the bill's language to reclassify suppliers as providers could prove harmful to most small HMEs.

"That point is not negotiable," Stanfield said.

The groups that signed the letter were: The American College of Chest Physicians, American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society, National Association for Medical Direction of Respiratory Care and National Home Oxygen Patients Association.

H.R. 3220 would repeal the 36-month cap on Medicare reimbursement for oxygen and remove the product category from national competitive bidding. AAHomecare says the bill is budget neutral, but Stanfield and others say it could reduce oxygen reimbursement by 18% to 22%.

AAHomecare agrees that there are some differences among patients, providers and clinicians on oxygen reform. The association will continue to work on a compromise and do everything it can to make sure oxygen reform is part of healthcare reform, said Walt Gorski, AAHomecare's vice president of government affairs.

"The real threat here is cuts to oxygen," he said. "And that is one of the key issues moving forward--to prevent those cuts from occurring."

The question now is whether the NAIMES and CSIHME opposition has damaged H.R. 3220's chances of being included as part of healthcare reform, say industry watchers.

"If I was Ross, I would say, 'Come back with something everyone agrees on,'" said one industry watcher. "He hasn't done that to his credit, but I wouldn't have the patience."