Push for industry bills continues

Sunday, August 19, 2007

YARMOUTH, Maine - Providers and other stakeholders continue to call and meet with Washington lawmakers during the August recess, asking them to support several industry-related bills and fight two new provisions.

The industry's stumping for bills to lessen the blow of national competitive bidding (H.R. 1845 and S. 1428), eliminate the 36-month cap on home oxygen reimbursement (H.R. 621 and S. 1484) and carve out complex rehab from competitive bidding (H.R. 2231). Additionally, it's fighting a bill drafted by the U.S. House of Representatives that would reduce the oxygen cap to 18 months and eliminate the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs.

Last week, Invacare held its annual fundraiser for Rep. Dave Hobson, R-Ohio, co-sponsor of H.R. 1845. At the event, Hobson told attendees that if the industry can hit 200 co-sponsors by the end of September or early October, he'd have a good chance of attaching the bill to a larger bill, increasing its chances of passing.

"We have 109 co-sponsors right now, and we need to keep pushing," said Cara Bachenheimer, vice president of government relations for Invacare. "If we get 200, leadership will take notice."

On Tuesday, The VGM Group will host a fundraiser for Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. The event, which will take place at the home of Van Miller, hasn't attracted the crowd that it should, said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations.

"We have some good provider support coming, but the apathy among manufacturers is unbelievable," he said. "Here's an opportunity for an hour and a half with Grassley, and we've got Invacare, The Roho Group and Pride coming--that's it. If you're a manufacturer and you're not engaged, shame on you."

Gallagher pointed out that Grassley, a member of the Finance Committee, could help the industry thwart the House's plans to reduce the oxygen cap and eliminate the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs. The Senate didn't include any HME provisions in its bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The House and Senate must compromise their bills in September.

In Montana, the Big Sky Association of Home Medical Equipment Suppliers has set its sights on Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee. While the association is "struggling to get his ear," it's planning a series of town hall-style meetings across the state that it hopes will get his attention, said Mike Calcaterra, the association's president.

"We're in a unique situation where we're a smaller state but we're represented by one of the most powerful guys when it comes to health care," said Calcaterra, a branch manager with Norco Medical in Missoula. "We need to let beneficiaries know of the possible impact of these issues, and we need to express to them the importance of Baucus, and how, at this point, he's sitting on the sidelines."

Providers and stakeholders in Minnesota have made progress with Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., during the August recess.

"After working on him for years and after nearly daily conversations with providers, he has agreed to sign on to H.R. 1845," said Rose Schafhauser, executive director of the Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services (MAMES).

While Schafhauser agreed that there's always room for more providers and manufacturers to get involved, she's seen "bigger participation among our members to reach out and try to get their representatives to sign on" to industry-related bills.