Sunday, October 31, 2004

Editor, HME News

While the nation at large was split evenly between George Bush and John Kerry in the first week of October, the HME industry was decisively for the president. In this month’s NewsPoll, which generated more responses than any of our polls over the past several years, 62% of 216 respondents said they planned to vote for Bush and just 38% gave the nod to Kerry.

Anecdotally, one senses a conservative tilt to the HME industry. But a tilt this steep is surprising. Even more surprising is the parity between the numbers of respondents who believed that a Republican president is a better custodian of the Medicare program than the Democrats who, afterall, founded the program in 1965 and who historically vote to maintain social welfare programs. In our NewsPoll, 51% of our respondents believed that a Republican administration was a better guardian of Medicare.

An unscientific Internet survey of polls conducted by the country’s most significant pollsters - Harris, CNN, and USA Today - reveal that the general population believes the Democrats, by a margin of two-to-one, do a better job on Medicare than Republicans. So why doesn’t this industry see eye to eye with the general population? And does it matter?

One explanation lies in the peculiar heat of this presidential election, which many believe to be the most important election of their lifetime. The polarization we feel toward the candidates might well color an appreciation of who is better on what.

Otherwise, the returns on our NewsPoll do seem counter-intuitive. In this Congress, the Republicans pushed through a Medicare reform package that this industry openly loathed. One of the most hotly debated points of the reform legislation was the degree to which the MMA would open the door to more privatization of Medicare. The Republicans want to see more privatization; the Democrats want to see less.

On this count, this industry sides with the Democrats. Most HME suppliers prefer the fee schedule to managed Medicare plans in which private industry sets the payment rates for reimbursement.

The industry also prefers the views on home healthcare expressed by John Kerry (see page 1), who would suspend payment rate reductions based on FEHPB plans and for whom competitive bidding is nothing more than “government-sponsored price fixing” to the views expressed by George Bush, who doesn’t want to make changes to the MMA.

One could argue that the industry’s prevailing political stance is working against the success of its individual businesses. And maybe that’s a noble thing. Just 8% of our respondents said their own personal business interest was the primary driver of their vote for president, while values and the welfare of the economy overall were locked in a dead heat for primacy with 32% each. (So much for national security concerns, which was the third most important consideration for our respondents at 21%.)

If Bush wins, let’s hope you’re right about who all’s better as a custodian of Medicare. If he loses, let’s hope everyone else is.