Providers get tough with unresponsive congressmen

Thursday, November 30, 2006

When it became clear in early November that Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., wouldn't be co-signing two industry-related bills, provider Todd Tyson wanted to let the world know.
Tyson, president of Hi-Tech Healthcare in Norcross, Ga., promptly staked a handful of signs on the small lawn in front of his main location that criticized Linder, who was up for re-election. The signs read: "Linder Sucks the Oxygen Out of the Air"; "Linder Voted to Reduce Medicare Benefits"; and "Linder Votes to Sever Patient/Provider Relationships."
"I felt compelled to educate his constituents on his stance on (national competitive bidding and the 36-month cap on Medicare oxygen reimbursement)," Tyson said. "I appreciate 95% of what he's done--I voted for him last time. But because I voted for him, when I need a message sent to Washington, D.C., he's the conduit through which I speak. So I feel slightly less represented right now."
Since Congress passed the oxygen cap as part of the Deficit Reduction Act in February, Tyson has had numerous conversations with Linder's staff. He and several other HME providers from Georgia even met with Linder. But conversations stalled in October, after Linder's staff declined Tyson's offer to visit Hi-Tech Healthcare. A representative from the congressman's office told Tyson flat-out: "At this point, Rep. Linder is not going to sign the bills. That's just the way it is."
Tyson responded by e-mailing Linder's office additional information-- and photos of his anti-Linder signs. Provider Cynthia Jarman knows Tyson's frustration. She hasn't had luck getting Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., to co-sign H.R. 3559, despite repeated conversations with the congressman's staff.
"(His office) keeps telling me he has been assured that competitive bidding won't happen here," said Jarman, director of operations for Alliance Medical in Albemarle, N.C. "I keep telling them, it could. You can't wait until it's too late!"
While Jarman can't stake anti-Hayes signs outside her company--it's hospital owned--she has staked signs supporting Hayes' Democratic opponent on her lawn at home. (At press time, the outcome of the race was still undecided.) Linder won re-election, but like Jarman, Tyson voted for Linder's Democratic contender--just on principle.
While he cautioned the industry not to get "overly personal" with its lobbying efforts, Michael Reinemer, AAHomecare's vice president of communications and policy, conceded that "more needs to be done to get these members to earn their seats."
"There are a lot of ways to do it," he said. "Endorse whoever appreciates your position. Make a congressman's position public through a letter to the editor to a newspaper or during a town hall meeting. There's no reason to throw up your hands and give up."