Providers aim to ramp up lobbying

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine - Lawmakers will break for a two-week Easter recess April 4 and providers need to make meeting with them while they're in their home districts a priority, industry stakeholders say.

Providers should be up to the challenge, according to the results of the April HME NewsPoll. Eighty-eight percent of respondents have contacted their U.S. senator or representative already this year.

"It is important to know our officials and their office staff," writes provider Tim Pederson, CEO of WestMed Rehab in Rapid City, S.D. "If we only contact them during a crisis, then they will remember you as Chicken Little."

Site visits, in particular, help put a human face on what providers do, respondents said.

"The last time, we had a Congressman in the office, I invited patients as well as other providers and it worked out well," wrote one. "They get to hear the real fears of our patients."

The biggest issues providers discuss when meeting with lawmakers: the oxygen cap (45%) and competitive bidding (36%). Along with site visits, providers like to follow up while a topic is fresh, respondents said.

"In addition to face-to-face communication at the recent AAHomecare fly-in, we sent out several email blitzes to (health staffers) asking them to have their member sign the 'Dear Colleague' letter from Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.," wrote Andrew Simmons, president and CEO of Cornerstone Medical in Atlanta. "We believe this met with some success as signers went from 41 to 123."

As to whether most lawmakers understand complicated issues like the oxygen cap, providers are mixed, with 36% saying they do, 36% saying they don't and 23% unsure.

"After discussing issues with senators, I get a follow-up letter that does not address any of the issues I bring up," wrote one provider. "They do not understand the impact that cuts, NCB and oxygen changes will have. They are voting on issues to be put into law when they don't even understand these issues."

Writes another: "I had a patient contact Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., right after the ice storm in February. McConnell told the patient, 'I have no idea what you are talking about when you say 'oxygen capping out.'"

When reaching out to lawmakers, don't rule out legislative staffers, either, wrote provider Carolyn Ciccone, CFO of Respiratory Therapy Associates in Glen Mills, Pa.

"We have met with Rep. Joseph Sestak, D-Pa., several times and this year he had a healthcare assistant contact us," she wrote. "I wrote a summary of the problems the new oxygen rules were causing. She sent back a letter Rep. Sestak sent to decision makers in Congress and CMS. He is supportive of our industry."