Providers size up presidential possibilities

Sunday, January 13, 2008

YARMOUTH, Maine – Like a chorus from a song off Sgt. Pepper’s, respondents to the most recent HME NewsPoll had this to say of the industry’s fate under the next presidential administration: “It can’t get no worse.”

Though many respondents believe presidential politics has little bearing on the industry’s fate, more believe the industry has nowhere to go but up during the next administration.

"Unfortunately, the current landscape for HME providers is so overwhelmingly hostile, it's hard to imagine any scenario under a new administration that wouldn't represent improvement,” said Daniel Johnson, president of Indiana Respiratory Services.

A sizable majority of the poll’s 408 respondents (61%) believe the Democrats will take the next election. An even greater percentage (75%) believe the next president will do a better job than George W. Bush.
Informed by popular perceptions that Democrats are better caretakers of the elderly and boosters of social programs, respondents are hopeful that dark days may brighten.

“Historically, (Democrats) have been hesitant to cut any program that benefits the elderly,” said Cliff Doss, a respiratory therapist at Medical Services LLC. "Even Mrs. Clinton's (socialized medicine) healthcare plan should be a boost for our industry. Greater access to health care for the non-insured or under-insured should mean more clients for us.”

Not everyone is sold on the Democrats as agents of change, of course.

"If a Democrat wins, expect to see moves toward socialized medicine,” said one respondent. “Think the Medicare situation is bad. Just wait until they implement their plan on the medical industry."

Still, greater numbers believe the same-old same-old will prevail, no matter the president’s political stripe. Congress, some say, is the real driver when it comes to change in the HME industry. Others believe that no politician can budge a bureaucracy as set in its ways and resistant to change as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“Unless the next administration can become fiscally responsible and stop the waste in government, especially pork barrel projects…and wasteful entitlement programs,” then nothing will change, said Stewart Pace, senior vice president of Med-South in Birmingham, Ala.

Others, like Fastrack’s Spencer Kay, believe the “answer” for the industry lies within suppliers, as they run their businesses more efficiently in an attempt to reduce operating costs.

Patrick Loschke also blames suppliers themselves for the current jam.

“The industry didn't ‘police’ itself appropriately for years,” said the vice president of business development at Optimal Health Services in California. “Now, Congress is going after them/us until they have a new target to squeeze.”

Many NewsPoll respondents shot from the hip, expressing regard for their own political inclinations and disregard for opposing points of view. Echoing the sentiments of many, one respondent volleyed this: “I'm confident that my 4-year-old niece could do a better job than the current president.”

Fewer respondents defended the president’s performance, though one had this to say: “There is no one I would rather have in the White House than Bush at this time, making decisions for me and my country. He has done the best job possible considering all the huge changes that have come about during his administration, and I'm confident no one could have done better.”