Provider receives rude reception

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

WAUKESHA, Wis. - Jill Spellman had no idea what she was in for when she paid a visit to her congressman, U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., in early January.
Spellman, the president of Oxygen One, visited the congressman armed with about 1,100 letters, mostly from Medicare beneficiaries stating their opposition to a proposal to cap oxygen reimbursement at 36 months. As soon as Sensenbrenner discovered the purpose of her visit, he exploded into anger, Spellman said.
"He was yelling at me: 'Are you responsible for lying to all of these patients?'" she said. "I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. This is not what I expected at all.' Several times he told me that our trade association was wrong; that we don't lobby fairly; that we're responsible for telling patients lies that instill fear in them; and that he was sick of it. After about 10 minutes, I lost it and started to cry. He hurt my profession so bad."
Spellman's rude reception was not an isolated occurrence. As the HME industry ramped up its grassroot efforts in January, concerned beneficiaries inundated lawmakers with phone calls, supporting the industry's position--that the bill provides little detail on how equipment will be maintained following the 36-month cap.
Apparently, lawmakers accustomed to pushing the HME industry around don't like being put on the defensive, said industry watchers.
"The beneficiaries are speaking out," said industry attorney Asela Cuervo. "There are so many unknown questions about how this will be implemented. The message is resonating."
AAHomecare's director of communications, Michael Reinemer, urged providers to continue to speak up and not be "intimidated by members of congress."
"The provider has the moral high ground," Reinemer said. "First of all, these members of Congress work for the American taxpayers, but they also represent oxygen beneficiaries who deserve to know what level of care they can count on."
During Spellman's lobbying visit, Sensenbrenner eventually cooled down. "I said, 'Look, I don't know what your perception is of everyone else, but we are a small family company, we employ 23 people and we take care of this many patients,'" Spellman said. "We ended up having an hour of his time, and it ended better than it started."