Providers take to the Hill

Sunday, June 7, 2009

WASHINGTON - If one message got hammered home at AAHomecare's Legislative Conference last week it was this: The industry has no time to waste if it wants its initiatives to be included in healthcare reform.

"The (reform) train has left the station and it is barreling down the tracks," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told attendees.

Lawmakers are under tremendous pressure to put together a healthcare reform package by August, and the HME industry, which would like to repeal competitive bidding and reform the oxygen benefit, is a blip on the radar screen of groups clamoring to have their say, stakeholders said.

"We are the last flea, on the last hair on the tail of the dog," said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group. "We've got to have specifics; there is no tomorrow."

With that in mind, more than 250 determined attendees from 33 states fanned out across Capitol Hill Tuesday and Wednesday armed with an Integrity and Reform Action Plan that outlined the industry's key issues. In addition to repealing competitive bidding and reforming oxygen, the plan seeks to rescind the 9.5% reimbursement cut to complex rehab, and implement a fraud and abuse prevention plan.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm for tackling the task and they went to the Hill charged up," said Tyler Wilson, president and CEO of AAHomecare. "We've got a number of important issues and we've got some convincing to do."

AAHomecare had hoped to have attendees at the fly-in push an actual bill to reform oxygen, but the language is still being finalized. The bill, which will be sponsored by Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., is expected to drop in the next few weeks. Unveiled in April, the reform plan includes a provision to reclassify oxygen suppliers as providers.

"Philosophically, legislatively and business-wise, this is the best horse for us to get on," Don Clayback, vice president of government relations for The MED Group, told attendees. "There are certainly differences of opinion and every one is valid, but we need to be mindful of the timeframe."