Oxygen reform: 'We need to keep this moving'

Sunday, April 12, 2009

ARLINGTON, Va. - The industry's oxygen reform plan is headed for Capitol Hill--possibly as early as this week--whether its opponents like it or not.

Last week, AAHomecare released an outline of its 15-point plan for oxygen reform and announced that its board of directors had "overwhelmingly" approved it. The association then held a teleconference to outline the plan and answer questions.

One of the questions asked during the teleconference: "Why is AAHomecare moving forward with a plan that is not supported by the majority of independent providers?"

A provision to reclassify oxygen suppliers as providers, which was added to the plan at the last minute, has created a divide among some members of the New Oxygen Coalition (NOC). AAHomecare formed the committee in January to revamp the oxygen benefit.

"Why not move forward as a group with the 14 points we had almost unanimous agreement on?" asked Mike Calcaterra, a provider and NOC member.

AAHomecare chairman Alan Landauer disagreed.

 "There are questions and uncertainties on all parts of the plan," he said. "We may not all like all of it, but we feel (moving to provider status) is the only way to increase our visibility."

Another question asked during the teleconference: "Why is it more likely that CMS would see more value for us as providers, when they have so far refused to (see) the value of the same services we've been providing under DMEPOS?"

The way the DMEPOS benefit is currently set up, Landauer said, cost of goods is the only data point that Medicare considers. The reform plan, on the other hand, includes 13 specific services, which allows the industry to affix costs to them.

"No longer will the Office of Inspector General be able to do a report simply by looking at the cost of a piece of equipment and determine that we are overpaid," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare.

At any rate, "cherry-picking" among the plan's different provisions will only impede progress, said Landauer. With Congress seeking to craft healthcare reform legislation before its August recess, there is no time to waste if oxygen reform is to be part of the discussion, he said.

"As much as we'd like to spend three or four more months on this, we need to keep this moving," Landauer said. "The Medicare reform package is moving at a much faster pace (than expected)."

The next step is drafting legislative language and then shopping it around on the Hill. Landauer said it's important to remember that at this point, the proposal is still very "fluid."

"A lot of things will change," said Landauer. "A lot of things have to change if we are going to get it past Congress. We don't know all the answers, but we will start narrowing it down as quickly as possible."