Oxygen reform: 'The world could be passing us by'

Sunday, August 9, 2009

ELYRIA, Ohio - Invacare officials worry that the HME industry may be blowing its chance at reforming the oxygen benefit by failing to speak with a common voice.

"The world could be passing us by," said Chairman and CEO Mal Mixon at last week's Invacare Media Day. "I can tell our lobbyist to do something, but I don't know what to tell him."

In recent weeks, NAIMES and CSIHME, as well as a few state and regional associations, have come out publicly against H.R. 3220, AAHomecare's plan to reform the oxygen benefit. The groups strongly oppose two provisions in the bill: one to remove oxygen from national competitive bidding (they feel that should be dealt with separately) and another to reclassify suppliers as providers.

The industry's lack of unity was also addressed by Carl Will, senior vice president, home care division, North America ("We do a deplorable job at having a common voice, and it matters. We're 2% of the Medicare budget, and we act like we're 50%), and Joe Lewarski, vice president of the respiratory group ("Our obstacles haven't changed over the last 10 years--the government, ourselves, the government, ourselves").

The stakes are high, Invacare officials said.

"The risk (of not getting oxygen reform passed) is that payment cuts will be deeper," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations.

When the House returns from its recess in September, it will consider more than 50 amendments to its healthcare reform legislation, including H.R. 3220, Invacare officials said.

As for the Senate: The Finance Committee hasn't released draft legislation yet, but Invacare officials believe members are considering reducing payments for stationary concentrators and increasing payments for portable concentrators-something all industry stakeholders agree should happen. Members are also considering lifting the 36-month cap on reimbursement for oxygen, they said.

Other highlights from Media Day:

    * Will introduced Invacare's new vice president of marketing for the home care division, North America: Daniel Lee. Previously, Lee worked for Hitachi and LG. He plans to focus on improving Invacare's digital presence, including its Web site. "There's a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes," he said.

    * The Respiratory Group introduced the SOLO2 Transportable Oxygen Concentrator. The SOLO2, which hit the market this week, features continuous flow oxygen delivery at 1 to 3 LPM. The 20-pound, battery-operated concentrator operates at 39 decibels at 2 LPM continuous flow.

    * Mixon presented "Invacare Over 30 Years," a slide show presentation of company highlights, including his purchase of the company for $7.8 million in 1979 (it now earns $1.8 billion in sales), its expansion into foreign manufacturing in Mexico in 1988 and the debut of its "Yes, You Can" tagline in 1999.

    * Mixon met with President Barack Obama recently when Obama visited Shaker Heights, Ohio, to tout healthcare reform. In a speech there, Obama singled out home care as more cost effective than institutional care, the first sitting president to make such a statement, Invacare officials believe. "We're finally getting the story of home care out there," Mixon said.