Protests and rallies: Helpful or harmful?
Q. Last month the VGM Group staged a protest rally outside the Bakersfield, Calif., office of U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif. Thomas obviously doesn't like the HME industry and has often backed legislation to cut Medicare DME reimbursement. Does this kind of protest rally hurt or help the industry's cause?
A. I would not presume to question the strategy of the VGM Group; only they know what they hoped to accomplish. I do know from my own experience that most members of Congress are helpful in aiding their constituents with the Medicare program. You state that Rep. Thomas doesn't like our industry. If indeed this is the case, I can assure you that this kind of demonstration/rally will not go very far in changing his opinion.
In my view, attempting to find out just why Rep. Thomas dislikes our industry, if he does, and working to change his opinion is a constructive, rather than destructive, course of action. If constructive methods fail, then we are only left with alternative methods. A protest rally to educate the electorate is certainly a widely, and sometimes successfully, used tactic.
We are an easily misunderstood industry because of adverse publicity of past abuses and outright fraud. We need to change the public's overall perception created by a few widely publicized, isolated instances. We are the only ones that can change that image and a number of groups within our industry are working very hard to do just that.
Rep. Thomas is sworn to represent his constituents and only they can determine if he is failing that job--at election time. With that in mind, if all the talking, protesting and concerted lobbying efforts fail, the industry could always support someone to run for Rep. Thomas' seat.
Michael Watson is vice president of government affairs for American Medical Technologies. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 542-0330.