Providers greet President at forum

Thursday, August 18, 2011

PEOSTA, Iowa - A group of HME providers greeted President Obama's bus when it rolled into this tiny town Aug. 16 and, in the process, gained national media attention.

"It was an opportunity to get the publicity we need on (competitive bidding)," said Rose Schafhauser, executive director of the Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services (MAMES). 

The president was on a three-day tour of the Midwest, and stopped in Peosta for a White House Rural Economic Forum.

A group of about 20 members of MAMES and The VGM Group--along with a few children--lined up outside where the forum was held, holding aloft brightly-colored signs that read "Save home health care jobs," and "Save my daddy's job."

"We were there to say, 'Look, you're here in Iowa talking about rural jobs and how to create rural jobs,'" said John Gallagher, VGM's vice president of government relations, who organized the demonstration. "How about you keep the jobs you've got?"

Among the media outlets that picked up the story: CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Post and The Today Show.

"The message was out there," said Gallagher. "But the biggest thing is that the White House press office looks at these things to see who was out there, what were the main issues and what got play."

Provider Bill Kellenberger was interviewed by a local CBS affiliate. 

"Somebody's got to stand up for us," said Kellenberger, owner of Davenport, Iowa-based Kelly's Medical Equipment and Supply, who drove one-and-a-half hours to participate in the demonstration.

Kellenberger talked with reporters about competitive bidding.

"There are going to be changes to the Medicare program, which is going to result in not only a loss of jobs, but also a loss of service to our Medicare population," he said. "I think I made that point pretty clear."

These attention-getting activities by the industry can't be a "one-time occurrence," said Gallagher.

"Providers have got to get out and do this," he said.